Sebastien Loeb strengthened his hold on the World Rally Championship lead with victory in New Zealand.

The Frenchman, seeking a ninth successive title, beat Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen by almost 30 seconds to open up a 38-point margin at the top of the standings.

Petter Solberg was over a minute further back in third, moving him ahead of the absent Mads Ostberg into third place in the standings, while Evgeny Novikov finished fourth.

But the weekend belonged to Loeb, who told "This is a great victory after a long weekend with some very difficult conditions. I really enjoyed the big fight with Mikko all weekend."

Loeb began the day 6.4 seconds ahead and extended his lead during a morning session in which Belgian Thierry Neuville took the plaudits by winning the first two stages.

Loeb led Hirvonen by 17.4 seconds at that stage, with Solberg settling for a safety-first approach in third for the Ford World Rally Team.

"I did not want to take any risks," the Norwegian told "The stages were very slippery and it would be easy to go off the road.

"I need the points this weekend, Mikko and Seb are too far ahead to catch in such little stage distance."

Dani Sordo won the super-special stages either side of the mid-day service break on his way to a sixth-placed finish before stage 20 saw Neuville claim his third stage win of the day. He also moved fifth as Ott Tanak rolled his M-Sport Ford and was forced to retire, though both he and co-driver Kuldar Sikk escaped injury.

Jari-Matti Latvala won the last two stages, earning three bonus points for the closing power stage to improve his points haul for finishing seventh. Armindo Araujo, Ken Block and Manfred Stohl completed the top 10.

Solberg and Loeb collected two and one point respectively in the last stage, meaning Loeb's fifth win of the season lifts him to 145 points, with Hirvonen on 107 and Solberg 90.

Loeb added: "I made a few mistakes in the Power Stage and went wide about three times so we at least picked up one extra point."