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Loeb wraps up victory in season-opener

  • Story Highlights
  • Sebastien Loeb starts season in ominous style with victory in Ireland
  • French ace is bidding for his sixth successive world championship crown
  • Citroen teammate Dani Sordo finishes second with Mikko Hirvonen in third
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(CNN) -- Sebastien Loeb made the perfect start to his defense of the world rally championship with victory in the season-opener in Ireland.

Loeb and his co-driver celebrate their victory with the entire Citroen team.

Loeb and his co-driver celebrate their victory with the entire Citroen team.

The Frenchman, chasing his sixth straight world crown, took the lead on stage four on the first day on Friday and was never headed.

Citroen teammate Dani Sordo of Spain and Ford's Mikko Hirvonen took the minor placings.

Loeb entered the final day holding a lead of 69 seconds and he adopted a cautious approach by taking only one of the final five stages on damp tarmac.

He survived a scare as he briefly went off on the penultimate special section, but he recovered to win by one minute 27 seconds and claim his 48th career win.

"It's been a really tough rally but I'm very happy to take the 10 points," Loeb told Press Association.

"Tarmac rallies are especially important to me. This one has been tricky for everyone, but now we're here at the finish with maximum points. It's a good start to the season!"

Hirvonen, Loeb's principal title rival in 2008, was also happy to get his challenge off to a solid start and his improving form on asphalt was shown by his four stage victories on the final day.

"It's a good start to the season," said the Finn. "We had some problems this weekend, I was hoping I could fight with Sordo but maybe that will come another time."

Norway's Henning Solberg took a fine fourth place in his non-works Ford with Australia's Chris Atkinson fifth on his debut for the Citroen development team.

The next round of the championship is the Rally of Norway which starts on February 13.

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