Cardiff - Sebastien Loeb claimed an unprecedented eighth successive world rally championship here Friday after a submerged branch stumped closest rival Mikko Hirvonen's title hopes
Hirvonen, eight points off Loeb going into the 13th and final rally of the season, damaged the radiator on his Ford Fiesta after striking the offending object on the Wales Rally GB's seventh stage.
He tried to return to service in Builth Wells, a journey of more than 100 kilometres, but failed to get beyond the town of Newtown, and later conceded defeat in his attempt to get his battered car to Saturday's start line.
"It's over for sure," the Finn said.
"I have to thank the team for a really good effort and all the help. Unfortunately we have to look to the future and see what we can do in the future."
Even more distressing for Hirvonen was that he had just taken the lead of the event having been fastest over both stages five and six.
"I felt really good. There were some slippery places but I was still able to push, although maybe not much more. It’s a hard rally and you can always have moments like that," he told wrc.com.
Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said: "It's devastating to go out in an incredible battle with Sebastien Loeb.
"It's a huge disappointment for the whole team after getting back into the championship fight again and then sadly losing it on the first day of the event."
Citroen DS ace Loeb was quickest in stages four and seven on Friday to top the standings by 1.1sec from Hirvonen's Ford Fiesta teammate and fellow Finn Jari-Matti Latvala, who was quickest in stages eight, 10 and 11.
Another Ford driver, Norwegian Mads Ostberg, is placed third, 1min 13.5s adrift.
In claiming his eighth title Loeb has bettered the seven Formula One titles won by Michael Schumacher.