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Loeb powers ahead in Rallye France Alsace

Citroen C4 driver Sebastian Loeb of France talks to the media after the Rally of Turkey in Antalya June 15, 2008. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Citroen C4 driver Sebastian Loeb of France talks to the media after the Rally of Turkey in Antalya June 15, 2008. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

(Reuters) - Sebastien Loeb was on course for a record ninth consecutive world title after dominating the Rallye de France Alsace on Friday to gain a commanding advantage over his only rival for the championship, Mikko Hirvonen.

The Frenchman won four of the day's seven stages to take a 13.1-second lead over Finn Jari-Matti Latvala on a Ford.

Loeb's Citroen team mate Hirvonen was 32.6 seconds off the pace and his third place overall was under threat as Norway's Petter Solberg finished the day only 0.7 seconds adrift.

Loeb, who will not compete in all races next year, finished only seventh in Thursday's superspecial in Strasbourg, but he came out with all guns blazing on Friday.

He won the first two stages of the day to put Finn Hirvonen, the only driver still able to pip him for the world title, 11 seconds behind.

Hirvonen slipped further back after finishing behind Loeb in all but one of the remaining stages.

Loeb will win a ninth consecutive title on Sunday if he holds on to a 56-point lead over Hirvonen.

He is 61 points ahead with two more rallies to follow the French one.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Alison Wildey)

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