Sebastien Loeb Rally Finland 2011 GEPA Pictures/Citroen

Sebastien Loeb wasn’t meant to win Rally Finland. In fact, he’d have been more than satisfied with a podium finish in an event that he’s loathed rather than loved since he made it big on rallying’s world stage.

“You have to drive at 200 percent and the risks are too big,” Loeb said before the start. “I don’t need to win for the championship, I won’t push.”

That Loeb did eventually win – after a close three-way fight with Citroen team-mate Sebastien Ogier and Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala owed everything to his brilliance behind the wheel rather than a change of strategy due to the fact he was running at the head of the field – and cleaning the road of the loose gravel – for all three days.

“It’s the most difficult rally to win and for sure I came here with the goal to score good points,” Loeb said. “For sure I wanted to win but I really didn’t care if it was the victory – it was important not to lose too many points here. I didn’t take amazing risks, the balance was really good in the car and I felt better in this car than the C4 before. I was able to drive on the limit without the big moments all the time.”

'It’s the most difficult rally to win' – Sebastien Loeb

Latvala was tipped as a favourite to win his home event for a second year on the bounce, but he couldn’t get the rear of his Fiesta to handle to his liking until a set-up change at the penultimate service: “We adjusted the pre-load on the rear differential and finally the car did what I wanted it to. But we woke up too late to win,” Latvala, whose gap to Loeb was 8.1 seconds, said.

'We woke up too late to win' – Jari-Matti Latvala

Ogier started day three 1.5s behind his team-mate but had no answer to Loeb’s pace on Saturday morning. “Then we had a front-left puncture on stage 17 and after that it was impossible to win," Ogier said. "It’s very frustrating because, for sure, I was confident to fight for victory and now for the championship this is a bad situation,” he continued, in reference to the 31-point divide that now exists between he and Loeb.

'For the championship this is a bad situation' – Sebastien Ogier

Mikko Hirvonen, who lives in Jyvaskyla where Finland’s WRC counter is based, began the event needing to win to keep Loeb in his sights in his bid to become world champion for the first time. But an off during Thursday evening’s opener left his Fiesta with rear suspension and brake damage.

Nevertheless a succession of stage wins enabled him to charge back from 36th to fourth by the finish. The three bonus points he secured for winning the event-closing Power Stage could yet prove pivotal in the outcome of the title battle.

Kimi Raikkonen finished ninth in his ICE 1 Racing Citroen behind Petter Solberg and Ford privateers Mads Ostberg, Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson. “We should have been seventh because Kimi was doing really well,” his co-driver Kaj Lindstrom said. “But we made one small mistake on stage 17 and that was it.”

The factory Minis of Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke were on course for the top 10 when overheating issues forced their retirement on the final afternoon.

Neither of the two Volkswagen Motorsport Skoda Fabias reached the finish either. Joonas Lindroos crashed on day two, while a broken radiator put paid to Andreas Mikkelsen’s hopes at the end of stage 17.

The Norwegian had impressed throughout despite being told not to push in an effort to secure a finish for the German squad, which was using the event as part of its preparations for a full WRC entry from 2013. “It’s a shame but these things happen,” he said.

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