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Sebastien Loeb wins ninth consecutive world rally title

STRASBOURG, France -- Sebastien Loeb clinched his ninth consecutive world rally title on home soil after winning Rally France on Sunday.

The French driver needed only to finish ahead of his Citroen teammate Mikko Hirvonen of Finland to guarantee another world crown.

“I don't know what to say, it's a great moment, I'm really happy,” Loeb said. “We won everything here, the rally and the championship. It's our last (full) season together with (co-driver) Daniel (Elena), but I'm trying hard not to think about it.

“I want to savor the moment,” Loeb added. “It's been a perfect season, we've won the championship with two races left.”

Although Loeb drove cautiously over the day's six stages, he had already established a comfortable lead and Hirvonen hardly made up any ground, finishing third overall behind Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland.

Latvala finished the race 15.4 seconds adrift of Loeb, while Hirvonen trailed him by 44 seconds.

“I'm satisfied to finish 15 seconds behind, that's good, even though I'm aware of the difference there is between us,” Latvala said. “Sebastien is the most incredible talent in the history of rally driving.”

Loeb was 54 seconds clear of Hirvonen overnight and appeared happy just to protect his advantage. Loeb had won four stages on Friday and Saturday, but failed to win any on Sunday.

“What a phenomenal driver. I'm delighted to be his teammate,” Hirvonen said. “Will it be my turn next year after Seb's retirement? I don't know yet, I prefer to make the most of being by his side this season.”

The 38-year-old Loeb expects to race in no more than five rallies next season as he prepares to make the transition to a new career with Citroen in World Touring Cars.

Loeb's day got off to a slow start when he finished the first two stages down in seventh place, and the third in sixth.

Hirvonen cut the gap to 44 seconds but was unable to make up enough time on Loeb during the day.

Belgian driver Thierry Neuville won five of the day's six stages in his Citroen, with Estonia's Ott Tanak winning the other one for Ford.

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Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb, right, celebrates on the podium with co-driver Daniel Elena, left, after winning the Rally de France, in Strasbourg, eastern France, Sunday, Oct. 7. Loeb becomes nine-time World Rally Champion after winning this race. (AP)

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