The BP-Ford Abu Dhabi suffered an agonising end to the Rally of New Zealand today as mechanical problems cost both their drivers the chance of a win. A puncture on the penultimate stage wrecked Mikko Hirvonen's hopes, leaving him to finish third, while teammate Jari-Matti Latvala was forced to retire with radiator damage on the same stage. These incidents gifted victory to the championship leader Sebastien Loeb, who extended his points lead to eight over Hirvonen. A disappointed Hirvonen said: "This is one of the biggest disappointments of my career but that's the way sport goes. "I was confident I could drive at normal pace through that stage and win but it was not to be because we handed Loeb victory. It is not looking so good for either championship now, but it is not impossible. "An eight-point gap in the drivers' standings will be difficult to make up and it's annoying to end like this after a great weekend. But I finished on the podium and what does not kill you, makes you stronger." A disappointed Latvala said: "I'm disappointed because I lost points for myself and the team. I was going so well and was pleased with my driving here so I thought I could finish second." Latvala had started leg three of the rally in third place after Hirvonen and Loeb had deliberately slowed down, conceding the lead on Saturday to avoid starting first on the loose gravel for the decisive final stages. Loeb had hoped to use his road position of starting behind both Ford drivers to his advantage before a spin on stage 12 appeared to have put paid to his hopes of challenging for victory. But on the 17th stage, Hirvonen, who had leapfrogged Latvala to lead the rally, lost around a minute after suffering a puncture and spin while Latvala retired at the same time, allowing Loeb through for an unexpected victory. The Frenchman finished 17.5 seconds ahead of his Citroen teammate Dani Sordo, and admitted to his good fortune. "This morning I had the spin and just was not able to make up the gap to Mikko - I thought it was over and we had lost the chance," Loeb said. "But then it all changed and we were leading again. But this was really a difficult rally, changing all the time, with some strategy coming in too. "I needed to win for sure, and that's very nice, but I'm not happy for what happened to Mikko because he was doing really well and it was a good battle. "But it's a race and these things happen sometimes." There are only four rallies left of the season, and the next event is in Spain, beginning on Thursday Oct 2.
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