MONTE CARLO, Monaco (AP) — Frenchman Sebastien Loeb became the oldest driver to win a world championship rally as he claimed his 80th overall win on Sunday following a tense duel between the two most successful drivers in the sport's history.
Loeb, who will turn 48 next month, won for the eighth time in Monte Carlo ahead of another French driver, bitter rival Sebastien Ogier, who suffered a puncture near the end of the four-day race that destroyed his chances of victory.
Ogier had a lead of almost half a minute over Loeb at the start of Sunday's penultimate stage in his Toyota GR Yaris but a front left puncture allowed Loeb to retake the lead that he had relinquished the previous day.
Driving a Ford Puma, Loeb used his experience to stay ahead once back in front and won the opening round of the world championship by 10.5 seconds over Ogier.
Ireland’s Craig Breen completed the podium in another Puma, 1 minute, 39.8 seconds off the pace.
“I didn’t expect so much when I came here, but it was a great fight," Loeb said. “Ogier was really fast and I struggled a bit yesterday and even this morning.”
Loeb, a record nine-time world champion, returned to the discipline for the opening round with the M-Sport Ford world rally team but won't drive the full season. Ogier has won eight championships.
In Monte-Carlo, he was partnered by co-driver Isabelle Galmiche, a 50-year-old schoolteacher. She became the first female winner of a WRC race since 1997.