Mon, Oct 30, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Gronholm's loss hands championship to Loeb

AP , PERTH, AUSTRALIA

Mikko Hirvonen slides his Ford Focus around a corner during stage 23 of leg three of Rally Australia near Perth yesterday. Hirvonen won the rally.

PHOTO: AFP

Sebastien Loeb of France won the World Rally Championship for the third time when his closest pursuer, Marcus Gronholm, finished fifth yesterday at Rally Australia.

Finland's Mikki Hirvonen, driving a Ford Focus, won the Australian rally, finishing 37.1 seconds ahead of Petter Solberg of Norway after leading each of the first two days. Manfred Stohl was third.

Loeb has a broken arm and did not drive in the Turkish rally won by Gronholm or in Australia. Loeb had a 25-point lead over Gronholm going into the Australian rally.

"Luckily for me I had a good number of points before I had my accident," Loeb said from France in a telephone interview that was posted on the rally Web site.

"When you are at home and you know you can't drive and you're watching the rally on the Internet, it's very difficult; very frustrating to not be able to fight," he added. "It's good to know that we won the championship."

Gronholm, champion in 2000 and 2002, wasn't helped by a roll on Friday, which cost the Finnish driver valuable time that he never recovered.

Gronholm's fifth-place finish gave him four points. If he won the final two rounds in New Zealand and Wales and Loeb failed to score, Gronholm would still only have 111 points, while Loeb already has 112.

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