Loeb clinches eighth title
Frenchman clinches WRC crown after Hirvonen retires in Wales
Last Updated: 12/11/11 9:45am
Sebastien Loeb: Has dominated the World Rally Championship since 2004
Sebastien Loeb claimed a record eighth consecutive World Rally Championship crown after Mikko Hirvonen retired from Wales Rally GB.
The Frenchman was eight points ahead of his only remaining championship rival heading into the rally and is assured of the title now the Finn is unable to score in the event.
Hirvonen damaged the radiator of his car on a branch on the seventh stage of the event, missing the rest of Friday's running.
He tried to return to service in Builth Wells and re-join the race on Saturday with a hefty time penalty, but eventually conceded defeat in his attempt to be at the start line for the penultimate day.
"It's over for sure," the 31-year-old said. "I have to thank the team for a really good effort and all the help. Unfortunately we have to look to the future and see what we can do in the future."
The blow was especially bitter as Hirvonen had just taken the lead in the event after being fastest over stages five and six.
"I felt really good. There were some slippery places but I was still able to push, although maybe not much more. It's a hard rally and you can always have moments like that," he told WRC's official website.
Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson added: "It's devastating to go out in an incredible battle with Sebastien Loeb.
"It's a huge disappointment for the whole team after getting back into the championship fight again and then sadly losing it on the first day of the event."
Loeb, who was also quickest on two of Friday's stages, took over at the head of the field and finished the day 1.1 seconds clear of Hirvonen's team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
Mads Ostberg ended the day third ahead of Norwegian brothers Petter and Henning Solberg, who were in fourth and fifth respectively.
Loeb now has twice the number of championships to his name as the next best entries in the record books, with Juha Kankkunen and Tommi Makinen both having won the title four times.
Meanwhile, Sky Sports' F1 analyst Tony Jardine and co-driver Bob McKenzie rebounded from Thursday's tricky start to move up to 49th after 11 special stages of the rally.
The Sky Bet/ProSpeed team performed well on the gravel of Garteiniog, Dyfnant and Dyfi East and West and are confident heading into Saturday's stages which are expected to suit their Mitsubishi Evo 9.
Jardine commented: "We are loving the stages at the moment, the car is going really well, we are probably at 7/10th of the pace right now, and it's getting more and more enjoyable."