Sebastien Loeb wins Rally of Sweden

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Sebastien Loeb became the first driver from outside Scandinavia to win the Rally of Sweden on Sunday.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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Sebastien Loeb became the first driver from outside Scandinavia to win the Rally of Sweden on Sunday, the 29 year-old Frenchman leading from the front on the last day to steer his Citroen to first place for the second time this season. Loeb's total time of 3 hours, 26 minutes, 17.7 seconds was 46.4 seconds quicker than the Peugeot of Finland's Marcus Gronholm, and nearly a minute and a half faster than World Champion Petter Solberg, driving a Subaru. Six special stages lay in front of the field as the Rally of Sweden entered its third and last day and for Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, it was to be an historic occasion. Loeb took a 40.6 second lead over Marcus Gronholm into Sunday and had extended that to 1 minute and 12 seconds by the time the 14.7 kilometre fourteenth stage had been completed. Gronholm, who has won this event on three of the last four occasions, spun off on stage 14 and by the time the Finn had removed his Peugeot from the snow, over half a minute was lost. Gonholm's compatriot Janne Tuohino powered his Ford through the testing conditions to a creditable fourth place overall, the newcomer gaining five precious world championship points. Carlos Sainz followed up his stage win on the 14th with another on the 17th, but it wasn't enough to catch Tuohino and Loeb's Citroen team mate had to settle for fifth place overall. World Champion Petter Solberg chose consistency over speed on Sunday, coming home in the top four in all but one of the stages. Solberg's third place overall was a big improvement on his Monte Carlo showing - a disappointing 7th. There was still much to play for as the top two tackled the final stage of the rally, a repeat of the 10.78 kilometre 16th stage at Hara. But Gronholm's chances depended on Loeb making mistakes - they didn't materialise and history was made as the Frenchman became the first driver from outside Scandinavia to win the Rally of Sweden. It was especially sweet for a man who is often dismissed as a tarmac specialist. "To be the first non-Scandinavian to win is very nice because it proves that it's not only the Scandinavians that can go fast on this kind of road," said Loeb. After his opening victory in Monte Carlo, Loeb has a maximum 20 points in the driver standings and leads Gronholm by seven. Round three of the 2004 World Rally Championship takes place in Mexico, between the 12th and 14th of March. (AP)