Loeb seeks four in a row


LEON, March 4 – France's six-time world champion Sebastien Loeb is out to win his fourth successive Rally of Mexico and stop in-form Mikko Hirvonen extending his lead when the race begins here on Friday.The 36-year-old Citroen Xsara pilot had to accept second place behind Finland’s Hirvonen in the season-opening Rally of Sweden and Loeb is hoping that he will ruin the Ford Focus driver’s 100th rally.

"We cannot say that the season started badly with second place in Sweden," said Loeb, who trails Hirvonen by seven points in the overall standings.

"But I am not going to let Mikko take further advantage. A win for me here will allow me to get back on level terms."

The Rally of Mexico — which Loeb has won on the last three occasions it was raced between 2006 and 2008 — is the first of five consecutive legs of the championship to be raced over an earth surface.

However, Loeb believes his car is well-suited to the challenging terrain.

"It is an interesting challenge for a driver," said Loeb, who has given up a drive in the 24-hour Le Mans race later this year to focus on winning a seventh title.

"The special stages are not too backbreaking, but a good mix, with very quick parts and bumpy stretches. Our car will be very much at ease on terrain that we know well."

Hirvonen, who has finished runner-up to Loeb in the last two championships, is the man in form, having warmed up for the Rally of Sweden by winning the Rally of Monte Carlo, which is no longer in the World Rally Championship (WRC) schedule.

The 29-year-old, winner of 12 races since his first victory in the 2006 Rally of Australia, is keen to deploy the same audacious strategy used in Sweden, where the decision to use studded tyres on the Saturday played a large part in his triumph.

"The Swedish race was a perfect start in the championship for the whole team," enthused Hirvonen.

"It is vital we build on that in Mexico and carry on taking the courageous decisions that bore such fruit for us in the opening leg."

Hirvonen’s compatriot and former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen will be looking for an improvement on his performance in Sweden, where he finished 28th, over half an hour slower than the winner, in his Citroen Junior Team car.

The Rally of Mexico takes place at the highest altitude of the series, with the competitors racing at 2700 metres on the Friday, which will provoke a dramatic reduction of 30 percent in engine power due to the atmospheric conditions.