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Loeb close to cloud nine in home race

Winner of rally Sebastien Loeb is seen after the FIA World Rally Championship WRC Neste Oil Rally Finland near Jyvaskyla August 4, 2012. REU
Winner of rally Sebastien Loeb is seen after the FIA World Rally Championship WRC Neste Oil Rally Finland near Jyvaskyla August 4, 2012. REU

By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, who was forced to retire from his home race last year, could secure a record ninth world rallying title on Sunday if he does no more than finish the Rallye de France-Alsace.

Loeb, who will not compete next season for a title he has won since 2004, enjoys a 61-point lead over Citroen team mate Mikko Hirvonen of Finland with only three races remaining.

"Like the fans who turned out to support me, I was disappointed to retire last year, but that kind of thing is also part and parcel of racing," Loeb, who has won seven of the 10 races held this season, was quoted as saying on his team's official website.

"I feel that there is some sort of revenge to take. This year, we can secure both titles."

Victory to Loeb on Sunday would also give Citroen the manufacturers' title at the end of the race starting on Thursday in Strasbourg. They currently lead Ford by 111 points.

It will all happen very fast according to Loeb.

"The stages are among the quickest that we have ever completed. The constant changes in road surface make the tarmac difficult to read and the work of the gravel crews is essential given that the road can become very dirty between the two runs," he said.

Hirvonen has already conceded defeat and now has the manufacturers' title primarily in mind.

"To be honest, I'm not thinking about the drivers' title at all," he said on the team's website.

"Seb has been as strong as ever this year and he has such a big lead that I don't see how I can beat him in normal racing conditions.

"My goal is to continue to improve and score the points needed by Citroen to win the manufacturers' world championship."

Ford boss Malcolm Wilson said he was running out of words to describe how good Loeb was.

"But I don't want him to stop because it's always been my target to beat him," Wilson was quoted as saying on the World championships' official website (www.wrc.com).

"He's stopped (our team) probably winning eight titles so I want to beat him while he's still there competing."

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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