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April 4, 2007 8:10 pm

Gap closes between world rally rivals

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Sebastien Loeb edged nearer to his rival Marcus Gronholm in the World Rally Championship when the Frenchman won the Portuguese event after a thrilling final few stages.

Loeb is now nipping at championship leader Gronholm's heels, having closed the gap to two points with his daring drive in the Citroen C4. The rally was a very close run thing for the first few stages and it wasn't until Sunday's closing stages that the outcome was decided.

However, Loeb put in the important spade work on Saturday, taking all of the six stages, helped by Gronholm's struggling on the wrong tyres. It meant that the crowds who lined the roads of the Algarve, where the rally was held, were treated to a good, old-fashioned joust, redolent of the days when drivers, rather than cars, were the star performers.

Loeb has won three of the WRC's five events and, although there is all to play for, most observers are looking to Loeb and his Finnish rival to land the title. Gronholm's BP Ford team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen, came home third.

One blot on the proceedings was a crash during practice on Thursday in which five people were injured. The rally organisers were later fined £25,400 ($50,000) by the governing body for "inexcusable" security lapses.

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