Sebastien Loeb clinched what will most likely be his final World Rally Championship title with a commanding win on his home event.
The Frenchman, set to compete part-time next year before moving away from the series in 2014, bowed out in style by claiming a ninth consecutive crown.
He also enjoyed a major boost in the Castrol EDGE Rankings, with victory enough to propel him four spots and into second.
He has not been higher than third in more than 24 months.
The magnitude of Loeb’s rise was admittedly helped by the relative struggles of the F1 contingent which had been above him – with Fernando Alonso for example sinking two places to fourth after retiring on the opening lap at Suzuka.
Encouragingly for Loeb however it was also due to the fact that he retired from last year’s Rally France, exaggerating his gains this time around.
That bodes well for the Citroen man as he also retired from the 2011 season-ending Rally GB.
He therefore stands a realistic chance of improving his overall total further still in the final two events of 2012 – meaning that a return to the top is distinctly possible.
Such a bid could however be scuppered by Sebastian Vettel after the German’s return to form over the past two grands prix.
Vettel had been consistently losing ground this year but should be able to hang on to first if he can continue his current winning streak.
Even if Vettel does manage to deprive Loeb of a swansong No.1 spot, the Frenchman’s dominance over the rest of the WRC field is secure.
Jari-Matti Latvala, his closest rival in the Rankings, is by way of comparison ranked 12th, with almost half Loeb’s points total.
His team-mate and closest points challenger Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile lies 21st, having slipped back one spot as a result of his distant third-place finish in France.
Petter Solberg could have challenged Hirvonen but crashed on Saturday, taking out an electricity pole in the process.
He was still able to move up two spots to 48th in the Rankings, but he remains behind Mads Ostberg (35). The 24-year-old Norwegian finished fifth in France, seconds behind Thierry Neuville (79).
While Loeb made the most significant Rankings move, in terms of positions alone Neuville was the biggest gainer.
Fourth place on the road was enough to carry him a massive 22 spots into 79th.
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