Loeb seizes lead in France
5 October 2012
Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb has taken the lead on Rallye de France this morning.
Loeb trailed overnight leader Thierry Neuville by 1.6 seconds following the short opening Strasbourg super special stage on Thursday, but soon moved to the head of the leaderboard in the first 'proper' test, setting the pace and outpacing his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen by 3.5 seconds.
Seb was then quickest again in SS3, albeit only 0.8 seconds up on Latvala, who moved up to second overall in his Ford, as Hirvonen struggled in the wet sections.
It was Latvala's turn to set the pace in the next stage, but again there was nothing much between him and Loeb, with the latter just 0.1 seconds slower. Loeb now heads into the mid-day remote service zone at Colmar with a 7.5 second advantage.
“For the time being, we're in a good position," Loeb said. "It's not easy to compare the times though because we don't all have the same tyres. I think we'll get a clearer idea of everyone's real pace this afternoon.”
Behind, Latvala is 11.6 seconds up on Hirvonen, while Neuville now lies fourth, just 1.5 seconds off P3, having been unhappy with his tyre selection for SS2.
“I really want to fight for the lead here so it was important to make a strong start and not lose big time this morning,” Latvala said. “Tyre choice wasn't easy. The first stage was surprisingly dry and my soft tyres started to get too hot near the finish. But the second stage was 80 per cent damp and the last test was 50 per cent damp and they worked perfectly. Soft was the right choice.”
“Temperatures are rising now and the sun is out, so I think hard compound will be the option for most drivers this afternoon,” added the 27-year-old.
“The first stage went very well, but I was a lot less comfortable on the next two, which were wet," Hirvonen chipped in. "It really wasn't easy to make the right choice this morning, as you can tell from the fact that we all went for different options. It isn't forecast to rain this afternoon, so the road should dry out and that will make things easier.”
Dani Sordo meanwhile has made a promising start in his Prodrive-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC car and rounds out the top five, ahead of Petter Solberg and Mads Ostberg. Solberg struggled on the opening two tests, but made some changes ahead of SS4 and was back on the pace, posting the third best time.
“I didn't have a good rhythm through the first two stages. I wasn't confident so I drove cautiously as I didn't want to make a mistake. I made minor changes to the settings before the final stage and everything felt much better. I have some more small things to change in service for the afternoon,” explained the Crash.net columnist.
Further back, M-Sport Ford duo Ott Tanak and Evgeny Novikov lie eighth and ninth, with WRC Team MINI Portugal pilot Chris Atkinson currently on course for tenth and the final WRC drivers' point.
“It has been a morning without any dramas," Tanak said. "OK, it was quite tricky on the second [SS3] and third [SS4] stages because there were quite a lot of cuts and the roads can get quite dirty. We went with the hard tyre which was OK – it was working better on some sections compared to other drivers that had gone for softs but I don't think it made too much of a difference really.
“But for us, the biggest problem at the moment is that the pacenotes aren't as good as they could be. Maybe we are still in gravel mode because they would be fine [on gravel], but on Tarmac I think we have been a bit overly cautious and could go a lot faster!”
“I am satisfied with the morning," Novikov added. "I am not sure that the soft tyre was necessarily the right choice – I think I would have preferred the hards – but there is not so much of a big difference between the two so it is not so bad. Everything is fine and we will keep going this afternoon.”
In the support categories, Craig Breen leads the SWRC - 2.1 seconds up on Hayden Paddon, while in the WRC Academy, Elfyn Evans has moved into P1, 35.1 seconds up on Jose Suarez. Alastair Fisher went out after SS2.
The action now continues this afternoon with a repeat-run through this morning's three stages.
The day then concludes with a run through the 4.65 km Mulhouse test at 18.35 hours local time.
Rallye de France-Alsace: Overall standings after Stage 4 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 38mins 30.5secs M
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 07.5secs M
3. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 19.1secs M
4. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 20.6secs M
5. Dani Sordo Prodrive MINI John Cooper Works WRC +00mins 23.2secs
6. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 26.1secs M
7. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 33.6secs M
8. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 50.0secs M
9. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 54.8secs M
10. Chris Atkinson WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +01mins 38.4secs
11. Sebastien Chardonnet FFSA Citroen WRT DS3 WRC +01mins 39.4secs
12. Sebastien Ogier VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +01mins 49.4secs
13. Andreas Mikkelsen VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +01mins 51.2secs
14. Martin Prokop Czech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 54.6secs
15. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +01mins 55.9secsM
16. Julien Maurin Ford Fiesta WRC +02mins 10.3secs
17. Romain Dumas MINI John Cooper Works WRC +02mins 48.1secs
18. Mathieu Arzeno Peugeot 207 S2000 +02mins 48.6secs
19. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 +02mins 48.9secs S
20. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 +02mins 51.-secs S
21. Yvan Muller MINI John Cooper Works WRC +03mins 01.4secs
22. Daniel Oliveira Brazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 03.6secs M
30. Paolo Nobre WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +04mins 43.2secs
SWRC standings after Stage 4 - Top 3:
1. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 41mins 19.4secs S
2. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 02.1secs S
3. PG Andersson Proton Satria Neo S2000 +00mins 21.0secs S
all times unofficial