Loeb closing in on title
Strasbourg - Barring a major mishap Sebastian Loeb will claim his record ninth world drivers title on Sunday after the Citroen ace's grip on the Rally of France tightened further on Saturday.
The Frenchman was quickest in four of the day's special stages to extend his lead on Jari-Matti Latvala in a Ford Focus to 29sec on a day when two spectators were injured after a crash.
And crucially Loeb's cushion over teammate Mikko Hirvonen, placed second in the title standings and the only rival who can prolong the title battle beyond this weekend, is 54sec behind.
Loeb will be crowned the 2012 champion if either he finishes in front of Hirvonen on Sunday or if he finishes one place behind the Finn as long as Hirvonen does not win the rally and the Power Stage, or if Hirvonen fails to finish in the top eight.
Latvala's cause was not helped when his car skidded in the wet and went into a ditch during stage 10.
The spectators were injured after the Citroen driven by Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah went off the road during the same stage.
"The injured pair are suffering from fractures - one to an arm, the other a leg. They were brought to hospital by ambulance," press spokesperson Francoise Despierre told AFP.
The remainder of the 10th stage was cancelled and organisers also cancelled the 12th stage due to too many spectators vying to gain the best vantage points.
Results on Saturday from the Rally France (After 16 of 22 stages):
1. Sebastien Loeb, France, Citroen, 2 hours, 54 minutes, 33.4 seconds
2. Jari-Matti Latvala, Finland, Ford, 2:55:03.1
3. Mikko Hirvonen, Finland, Citroen, 2:55:27.4
4. Mads Ostberg, Norway, Adapta, 2:56:19.8
5. Dani Sordo, Spain, Prodrive, 2:56:23.9
6. Thierry Neuville, Belgium, Citroen, 2:56:27.8
7. Ott Tanak, Estonia, Ford, 2:57:05.4
8. PG Andersson, Sweden, Ford, 3:26:47.5
Overall Standings (After 11 of 13 events):
1. Sebastien Loeb, France, Citroen, 219 points
2. Mikko Hirvonen, Finland, Citroen, 158
3. Petter Solberg, Norway, Ford, 119
4. Mads Ostberg, Norway, Adapta, 114
5. Jari-Matti Latvala, Finland, Ford, 113
6. Evgeny Novikov, Russia, M-Sport Ford, 63
7. Martin Prokop, Czech Republic, Ford, 40
8. Thierry Neuville, Belgium, Citroen, 38