Ford WRC star Markko Martin romped to victory in the Tour de Corse rally on Sunday, but 30-year-old Frenchman and Citroën driver Sébastien Loeb stole the limelight by clinching his maiden world rally championship title on home soil.

Ford WRC star Markko Martin romped to victory in the Tour de Corse rally on Sunday, but 30-year-old Frenchman and Citroën driver Sébastien Loeb stole the limelight by clinching his maiden world rally championship title on home soil.


Martin dominated the Corsican event, winning seven of twelve stages and took overall victory in his Ford Focus RS 04 WRC with a margin of more than two minutes.


But Loeb, who sealed the 2004 drivers' championships by virtue of the eight points he scored for finishing behind Martin, celebrated his success with a somersault on the podium.


“Winning the championship as a French driver with a French team on home soil is as good as it gets,” said Loeb. “To say I’m world champion is very nice. It was tough to keep my focus, but my concentration was okay until 5 km from the end of the last stage. I don’t know whether I could have caught the Fords this weekend but I started the rally with the goal of winning the championship”.


The only man with even an outside chance of beating Loeb to the 2004 title was Subaru’s Petter Solberg, the defending champion. But to keep his chances alive, the Subaru drover would have had to have won the event, and Martin was desperate to notch up the Ford’s second rally victory of the year.


"Corsica is the classic asphalt event and the ultimate one to win," Martin said. "It's been a brilliant weekend and we've had a really impressive run. Today was enjoyable but Friday and Saturday were really hard work. It was satisfying to be able to enjoy today after having put in the hard effort for the previous two days."


In the event, Solberg finished fifth, a full five minutes off Martin's pace, and also behind Loeb's Citroën team-mate, Carlos Sainz, and two-time WRC champion Marcus Gronholm.


"Obviously, I'm disappointed that the title race is over but that's just how it is," Solberg said. " We've shown this weekend that we have a lot of work to do before we are truly competitive in these conditions."


Martin's win was never really in doubt after the first day. While his Ford team-mate, Francois Duval, held a 15-second lead at the end of the first leg, Martin took back that and more just on the first stage of the second day, and held a 20-second lead over Duval and a minute over Loeb after the second leg.


On Sunday, Martin disappeared into the distance as Loeb drove conservatively to ensure a points finish and the second consecutive manufacturer’s championship for Citroën. While Martin took three of the four final stages, Loeb ran fourth or fifth on each one, usually 15 to 20 seconds behind his Ford rival.


Behind Martin and Loeb, Sainz and Gronholm battled for third spot. The Finn tried to catch the Spanish veteran, and the two traded seconds back and forth. But in the end it was to no avail, and Sainz finished the rally 35 seconds ahead of the Peugeot driver.


"It's been a long and tough three days," said Gronholm. "I started off with little confidence in the car's handling but the feeling got a bit better as I made a few small changes to the set-up. We were also testing a few things that will be useful for the asphalt of Catalunya in the future."