OLBIA, Italy, May 7- Seven-time world champion Sebastien Loeb won the Rally of Italy on Sunday for his 63rd career win and fourth in the race to reinforce his lead in the championship standings.
Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen finished in second place with Norwegian Petter Solberg in third.
Loeb’s compatriot and team-mate Sebastien Ogier, who had been bidding for a third successive win of the season, challenged strongly for the podium but he lost his chance when he suffered a broken suspension after hitting a stone on the 17th special stage.
The young Frenchman finished fourth overall.
Despite hitting out at the rule which means the leaders must sweep the course first, Loeb gave himself a pat on the back for what he labelled a "dominant" display.
"It’s great, I feel like I had a stylish win because people are usually quite quick to bury me," said the Frenchman.
"All you need is one small thing to go wrong and people start shovelling you into the ground.
"It’s by far the hardest of my wins in Sardinia because I was always the first to start. It shows we are still very much present, on top of the leaderboard and doing not too bad at all.
"I really dominated this event. It’s encouraging… although it doesn’t change the rules which, to me, are designed to penalise the leader who could go on to lose the championship."
Hirvonen limited the damage in the overall standings as he won the Power Stage, new to the WRC this season, to give him three extra championship points.
There was also a small consolation for his Power Stage second-placed compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala, who had lost all chance of overall victory because of a navigational error by his co-pilot on Friday.
Hirvonen meanwhile lamented being kept off the winners’ podium for the fifth time.
"That’s the fifth time I’ve finished second here… but I’m still very happy with the car and how we drove this weekend," said the Finn.
"I made a little mistake on Friday but I’ve still managed to come away with some points."
Solberg, who is spearheading his own team in a DS3, was delighted after battling back from 10th to third place.
"I’m very happy because the start of the season has been difficult so far," said the Norwegian.
"We had a great time this weekend, we attacked a lot and we’ve finished on the podium.
"Everyone knows how difficult it is to find sponsors, so while we face a big challenge in the championship this result is a boost for the whole team."