Citroen 'sorry' to Loeb

CITROEN Racing boss Olivier Quesnel has apologised to his lead driver Sebastien Loeb after a team error cost the five-time world champion victory at Rally Australia.

Loeb won the race on Sunday by beating arch-rival and championship leader Mikko Hirvonen by 12.5 seconds.

But the celebrations soon ended when the team was slapped with a one-minute penalty after the Citroen anti-rollbars were found not to conform to FIA technical configurations.

It relegated the Frenchman to second and allowed Finland's Hirvonen to stretch his lead in the drivers' standings to five points with two races left - in Spain and Britain.

Loeb is now four months without a win, and Hirvonen is poised to become the first driver to deny him a world championship title since Petter Solberg won in 2003.

The Citroens of Dani Sordo, who had come third, and fourth-placed Sebastien Ogier, were also penalised. Quesnel said it was a simple mistake and offered an apology.

“The difference had no effect on either the performance or reliability of the car. It was simply due to an administrative error and does not stem from any desire to cheat,” he said.

“On behalf of the team, I would personally like to apologise to Sebastien Loeb who scored a superb victory on the stages this weekend.”

Loeb knows he faces an uphill battle to retain his championship title, but said he was determined to bounce back in Spain on October 4.

“I am obviously disappointed, but you've got to accept it when the regulations are applied,” said Loeb, who has been linked with a drive for Formula One team Torro Rosso in this year's season finale in Abu Dhabi.

“Instead of being just one point behind Mikko Hirvonen, I now have a five-point deficit to make up.

“That clearly complicates matters regarding our bid to win a sixth title, but this won't have any effect on our determination to win in Spain.”

While happy to take the victory, Hirvonen said it was a pity for a race to be decided by the stewards instead of on the course.

“It's a shame that after such a thrilling battle for three days the result of the rally is decided in the stewards' room,” said the Ford driver.

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