SALOU, Spain: Nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb claimed his first WRC victory since 2013 with a thrilling win in Sunday's (Oct 28) Rally of Catalunya, while Sebastien Ogier snatched the championship lead.
Loeb was racing in only his fourth rally in the last five seasons after partly retiring to focus on other motorsports, following a glittering career which saw him win nine straight titles from 2004.
A last-minute tactical change to hard tyres on rain-soaked roads gave the 44-year-old Frenchman a shock lead as conditions suddenly dried.
Loeb edged out compatriot Ogier by just two seconds to secure his 79th rally win.
"I can't believe it myself," said Loeb, who scrambled atop his Citroen to celebrate in front of his fans at the finish line.
"It's unbelievable. Many think it's easy to become a nine-time world champion, but to come back six years later and fight with the best, it's difficult."
Ogier, who has won the championship in each of the five years since Loeb stopped racing regularly, edged into a three-point advantage over previous standings leader Thierry Neuville, who could only finish fourth after hitting a rock on the final special.
The final rally of the season starts on November 15 in Australia, where Estonian Ott Tanak also has an outside shot at the title, after slipping 23 points behind Ogier by finishing sixth in Spain.
"I would have preferred to win the rally, but I'm really happy with the points," Ogier said. "Now he (Neuville) has to beat me in Australia."