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Loeb extends Bulgaria lead, Petter on a charge

10 July 2010

Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb increased his advantage on Rally Bulgaria this afternoon, while Petter Solberg won all three stages to close up on Dani Sordo in second.

Loeb began the afternoon loop 30 seconds up on his team-mate, and despite running on the soft Pirelli tyres – as Citroen expected rain - the Frenchman was still second in all three stages, something that ensured he remains top ahead of the final day on Sunday.

Indeed Seb will start tomorrow with a 40.5 second cushion and with only four stages to go, things are looking very good for him and the Citroen Total WRT.

"We knew it [the choice of soft rubber] wasn't the best one but our lead enabled us to opt for security given the risk of the storm," said Loeb. "Overall, we didn't lose too much time.

"I adjusted my driving style as when soft tyres overheat, they make the car's handling less precise. You just have to find the right rhythm by anticipating a little bit more. We'll have to finish the job tomorrow to bag the win."

While Loeb consolidated his position though, Sordo was unable to stop Solberg from closing right up, reducing the gap from 26.8 seconds after the first loop this morning, to just 4.7 seconds post-SS10.

Sordo was 'only' fifth in SS8, third in SS9 and fourth in SS10, having opted to run with two spare tyres. That left him struggling for rear grip and with Solberg winning every single test in his privately entered C4, the fight is well and truly on for the runners-up spot.

"This is so great, I'm so happy with the afternoon stages," said Solberg. "We did some minor changes with the set up during the mid-day service, and that made a big difference for me. And with the help of our small weather and safety crew, we made the correct tyre choice."

"My C4 was handling well but the added weight of the second spare wheel reduced its overall efficiency," Sordo explained. "We made this choice as there was a strong possibility that a storm would soak the last stage. We've managed to hold on to second place, but tomorrow we'll have to push hard to finish the rally in front of Petter."

Sebastien Ogier meanwhile continued to pull away from Mikko Hirvonen in fifth and is now 44.7 seconds up on the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT man.

"This afternoon was much better with the correct tyres on dry roads," said Hirvonen, who struggled this morning when team's tyre gamble failed to pay off. "If you take away the tyre trouble, I had a stable day. It's a difficult rally.

"The roads here are a mix of the type we encounter on other rounds but I enjoyed the challenge and they're fun to drive. Tomorrow I hope we can find a good rhythm and have a clean run to a solid points finish."

Further down the order, team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala lost time with power steering problems, although he remains sixth and is still more than a minute up on fellow Ford runner Per-Gunnar Andersson, who is making his debut here for the Stobart team.

"In the long corners I had no power in my arms to hold onto the steering wheel," Latvala explained. "It was better in the less twisty, faster sections. In the final stage I had nothing left in my arms, and I needed more than in the previous stage because the road was so bumpy.

"My priority now is to visit our physiotherapist! I'm frustrated because I felt I drove well. Before the power steering problem my times were closer to Mikko than on previous asphalt rallies, so I think I have improved on this surface."

P-G added: "It was like a sauna in the car this afternoon but everything went really well for us and I'm happy with our stage times this afternoon. The first two stages were very clean and everything went well apart from hitting a rock about half way through SS9 which damaged my front right wheel.

"There was also a stray dog on the stage at one point but this didn't cost me any time. I'm really enjoying myself on the stages and definitely feeling a lot more confident in the [Ford] Focus today. I will continue to push tomorrow."

Frigyes Turan completes the top eight in his Peugeot 307 WRC, followed by Britain's Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg's Ford Fiesta S2000.

"We made the right tyre choice this morning but unfortunately we made the wrong decision by sticking with the soft tyres for the afternoon," Wilson stated. "We quickly realised our mistake and used hard tyres for SS9 where everything felt much smoother – it was good to get a consistent grip on the tarmac.

"I wasn't happy with my brakes this afternoon though and I think this cost us some valuable time. We're going to change the ride height for tomorrow but everything else will just depend on the conditions in the morning."

F1 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen incidentally, was able to re-join the fold this morning under the SupeRally, and having started in 26th he has hauled himself back up to 14th, posting an eighth quickest time and two sixths this afternoon.

"The entire team did a great job [to fix my car]. This morning my Citroen C4 WRC was as good as new and we were able to drive at our usual speed in order to accumulate all the kilometres that we need to make progress," said Kimi.

"On the last two stages I pushed a bit more on soft tyres. Tomorrow we'll try to get back into the top 10 even though I think we're a bit far off still. It's going to be interesting, whatever happens!"

In the JWRC, Thierry Neuville still leads in his Citroen C2 S1600, 51.1 seconds up on Hans Weijs. Yeray Lemes completes the Junior top three.

The action now continues on Sunday and the final leg includes 94.5 competitive kilometres split over two loops of two stages. SS11, the 29.53 kilometre-run through Muhovo 1, begins at 08.46 hours local time.


Rally Bulgaria: Overall standings after Stage 10 / Day 2 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 2hours 12mins 49.3secs M
2. Dani Sordo Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 40.5secs M
3. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 45.2secs A8
4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +02mins 05.7secs M
5. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +02mins 50.4secs M
6. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +03mins 33.1secs M
7. Per-Gunnar Andersson Stobart Ford Focus WRC +04mins 35.8secs M
8. Frigyes Turan Peugeot 307 WRC +05mins 39.2secs A8
9. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford Focus WRC +07mins 34.7secs M
10. Henning Solberg Stobart Ford Fiesta S2000 +10mins 04.6secs N4

Other:

14. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +12mins 51.1secs M


JWRC Standings after Stage 10 / Day 2 (Top 3):

1. Thierry Neuville Citroen C2 S1600 2hours 24mins 11.1secs J
2. Hans Weijs Citroen C2 S1600 +00mins 51.1secs J
3. Yeray Lemes Renault C2 S16000 +01mins 41.9secs J


Notable retirements:

SS4. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC Crashed M*

* denotes elected/able to re-start under SupeRally.


all times unofficial


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