Loeb signs off season with 76th triumph and second in Rankings
Sebastien Loeb ended his final year of full-time World Rally competition with a dominant 76th triumph and an eighth successive victory in Spain.
In the process he also vaulted back up to second in the Castrol EDGE Rankings, behind only long-term leader Sebastian Vettel.
The nine-time champion will contest selected events in 2013, but has already said they will be too few to allow him to mount a title challenge.
Second is therefore likely the highest he will climb, unless Vettel hits disaster in both the final two F1 grands prix of 2012.
Up until Rally Italy however there was a chance Loeb could deprive Vettel of the #1 spot he has now held for 138 straight weeks.
Loeb was an early crasher in Italy, breaking his steering when he hit rocks while leading.
Aside from Portugal, it was one of the few blows he suffered in an otherwise flawless season.
It did big damage in the Rankings though, costing massive points – almost exactly his current deficit to Vettel.
Despite those two setbacks Loeb still finished comfortably clear of his WRC rivals, just as he did in the championship itself.
Mikko Hirvonen, once more a runner-up to Loeb, was the only other man to break the top 20.
His podium finish in Spain – he did enough to cling onto third - lifted him two spots and into a season-best of 10th.
Jari-Matti Latvala was next up, although the litany of crashes with ruined his title bid also spoiled his Rankings form.
Finishing second in the 2012 finale was not enough to prevent him sliding three spots to 25th, a six-month low.
His Ford team-mate Petter Solberg fared even worse meanwhile, as three pointless rallies in the last five took their toll.
He ended the season 42nd in the Rankings, behind Norwegian Mads Ostberg (34th) in the privateer Adapta Ford.
Sebastien Ogier had proved one of Loeb’s fiercest rivals in 2011, but a switch into S2000 machinery this year inevitably produced a massive fall down the Rankings order.
12th at the start of 2012 – when Loeb was three places higher in ninth – became 92nd at the conclusion of this year’s calendar.
Should others behind him improve the Frenchman could therefore fall out of the top 100 for the first time since August 2009.