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Loeb wins Race of Champions (with pictures)

NEWS STORY
04/12/2005

Two-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb wrapped up his perfect season in WRC this year by clinching a sensational win in the 2005 Race of Champions at the Stade de France in front of more than 50,000 spectators.

The Citroën star won the day's Super-final shootout with Tom Kristensen, just hours after the Dane had secured the ROC-Nations Cup for Team Scandinavia in association with Sweden's Mattias Ekström.

After collecting his second consecutive title in world rallying thanks to a record-breaking score of ten wins, Frenchman Sébastien Loeb concluded his 2005 season with yet another triumph in front of a crowd of more than 50,000 fans at the Stade de France round an all-asphalt track made particularly slippery by the evening's rain.

"Winning the 2003 Race of Champions in the Canary Islands was nice, and I was delighted when I won the Nations Cup here in Paris twelve months ago with Jean Alesi," said Loeb at the finish. "But winning the Champion of Champions crown here at the Stade de France tonight in front of such a huge home crowd is really something special. I could hear them cheering me on from inside the car! I couldn't be happier. In rallying, you build up a win over a period of days and you tend to see it coming. But in an event like this, you're under pressure from the word go, right up to the chequered flag. You just never know what can happen next."

After being eliminated from this year's ROC-Nations Cup at the quarter-final stage earlier in the afternoon and following his defeat in the final of the Race of Champions by Heikki Kovalainen in 2004, the Frenchman tasted sweet revenge this evening. On his way to the final, he eliminated American X-Games superstar Travis Pastrana, who span driving the Xsara WRC, before toppling Scotland's Colin McRae and then fellow two-times WRC champ Marcus Grönholm. Yet his first head-to-head clash with Tom Kristensen in identical Renault Mégane Trophys in the Super-final could easily have handed the initial advantage to the Dane, but the time-keepers finally confirmed Loeb's victory by a margin of 8/100ths of a second as the two drivers crossed the line side by side!

Tom Kristensen's experience told him that if it was that close in the Méganes, he had no option but to pull out all the stops in the second race with the Xsara WRC if he was to stand any chance of taking their contest to a third decisive heat. Shortly after the start, however, the seven-times Le Mans 24 Hours winner made a rare mistake which handed victory to the ecstatic Loeb on a plate. "Given how close it was with the Renaults, it was maximum attack or nothing with the Citroën, a car which Seb has driven all year long," he said. "I didn't have all that much time to familiarise myself with it and I ended up making an early mistake which put paid to any hope I had of achieving a grand slam today. But I can't complain. I won the Nations Cup and I reached the final of the Race of Champions."

The Dane effectively enjoyed an exceptional run today. After triumphing in the Nations Cup with Sweden's Mattias Ekström, he emerged as the most successful 'racer' in the individual Race of Champions contest after eliminating F1 driver David Coulthard, Brazil's Nelson Piquet Jr., four-times NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon (who suffered a mechanical problem on the start line) and finally the outgoing Champion of Champions Heikki Kovalainen… by a mere 7/1000ths of a second, the closest duel of the day!

"My gearbox jammed shifting down after the bridge," said Christijan Albers, after his first round defeat against Jeff Gordon. "I found myself stuck in 3rd gear and I just went straight on into the barrier."

"I was struggling a bit," admitted Dan Wheldon, after his first round defeat against Sébastien Bourdais. "I didn't get in many laps during testing and I didn't compete in the Nations Cup so I didn't get much practice. But it's been a great experience being here and I would love to come back as part of a national team."

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