The achievement beats Loeb's own quadruple title record, which he shared with Tommi Makinen and Juha Kankkunen (both Finns). But with the fifth under his belt, Loeb emerges from the ranks as the sole quintuple champion. Even more remarkable is that championships were earned in succession and uninterrupted. Also remarkable was that Loeb secured the title one rally early, and didn't even have to win the event to lock up the championship. Follow the jump to read how it happened.
By the time the opening stages were completed on Friday, it looked as though Loeb would have to battle title rival Mikko Hirvonen to the bitter end of the season in Great Britain, as the rally-spec Ford Focuses (Foci?) were holding the top three positions in the weekend's standings, with Loeb and his Citroen trailing in fourth. But after Stobart Ford team driver Francois Duval crashed on Special Stage 6, many of the day's stages were cancelled and Loeb, by default, was elevated to third position. All the defending multiple champion had to do then was hold third place for the rest of the weekend to clinch the title, and he did. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen ended up winning Rally Japan, though at this point it didn't matter.
Rain set in on Sunday, resulting in some treacherous driving for the entire field. Even Loeb spun out on the second to last stage, but managed to keep it together. Subaru, meanwhile, had hoped for a good show at its home rally, but with the Citroens and Fords simply faster, could not manage better than a distant fourth and an eighth place finish.
With 14 of the 15 events on the 2008 calendar now complete, Loeb has won a dominating ten rallies. Even Hirvonen had to admit that was an all but completely unassailable lead, and congratulated his rival on the title. Now heading to the final round 15 in Wales, Loeb hopes to score his eleventh victory of the season and beat his own record. So while Formula One may have moved past its Schumacher-dominated era, the reign of King Sebastien over the World Rally Championship is still in full swing.
2008 Rally Japan
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford
3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen
4. Chris Atkinson Subaru
5. Per-Gunnar Andersson Suzuki
6. Toni Gardemeister Suzuki
7. Matthew Wilson Ford
8. Petter Solberg Subaru
9. Federico Villagra Ford
10. Dani Sordo Citroen
(after 14 rounds)
1 Sébastien Loeb Citroën 106
2 Mikko Hirvonen Ford 92
3 Dani Sordo Citroën 59
4 Chris Atkinson Subaru 45
5 Jari-Matti Latvala Ford 42
6 Petter Solberg Subaru 40
7 Henning Solberg Stobart Ford 22
8 François Duval Stobart Ford 22
9 Gianluigi Galli Stobart Ford 17
10 Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford 13
1 Citroën Total World Rally Team 169
2 BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 146
3 Subaru World Rally Team 87
4 Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team 62
5 Munchi's Ford World Rally Team 22
6 Suzuki World Rally Team 21