Two-horse race: Loeb, Gronholm to battle it out?
26 June 2004
Championship leader Sebastien Loeb and Peugeot number one Marcus Gronholm have been battling for the lead throughout the second leg of the Rally of Turkey today [Saturday].
Gronholm temporarily snatched the advantage after setting fastest time in stage nine and benefiting from a 10 second penalty given to Loeb for jumping the start.
The French driver, who won three of the six stages, nevertheless recovered his position after Gronholm hit a metal bar lying in the road in stage 11. The force of the impact not only holed the floor panel, but blasted into the underside of the co-driver's seat, leaving Timo Rautiainen in pain for the remainder of the day.
"It was a very strange problem," explained Gronholm, "Timo shouted out in pain, and I was quite worried so I slowed down straight away. Luckily he is fine now and has no injury, so we can continue to attack hard."
"It was another very good day," added Loeb, "tough though because of the heat in these very twisty stages. The car balance is simply perfect, I have full confidence in it and we have not made any mistakes. We have a small lead but we will try to control it [tomorrow]. I really want to win but I imagine that Marcus wants it as well."
Petter Solberg meanwhile maintains his third position in the lead Subaru, the Norwegian too far adrift to challenge and simply playing a waiting game should one of his rivals make a mistake.
"It's been a very good day," stated the Norwegian. "I'm very pleased with the performance of the car and the tyres have done well in these very warm conditions - occasionally we have struggled, but that's how it is. The last two stages were much colder and the feeling with the car was very good."
Harri Rovanpera had stormed from an overnight sixth to fourth however the Finn was struck with gearbox problems in the final stage of the day and was forced into retirement. He was understandably disappointed.
"It seems I am destined never to be lucky in Turkey! What happened to me was a real pity, because up until that point everything was going very well," he explained. "I had a lot of confidence in the car and I was able to push. Maybe I could have been on the podium... but we will never know."
Carlos Sainz and Francois Duval therefore moved up the leaderboard into fourth and fifth respectively, the Belgian suffering a broken front right drive-shaft in stage 10. Sainz was pleased just to get to the end though, as he has been feeling ill throughout the day's action.
"I have experienced the toughest day of my career," he noted, "even worse than in Sanremo when I started after a laser treatment for kidney stones. To say that I'm happy to see the end of the day is an understatement. I am relying on a good night sleep to be fit tomorrow."
Mikko Hirvonen is sixth in the second Subaru, despite a puncture, which ripped the tyre open near the end of stage 11.
Janne Tuohino and Henning Solberg complete the provisional points scorers in seventh and eighth, while Gianluigi Galli is eleventh for Mitsubishi and Markko Martin, is 27th for Ford, both currently on target for manufacturers' points.
In the Junior WRC Suzuki dominate, with Mirco Baldacci first, while team-mates, Per-Gunnar Andersson, Kosti Katajamaki, Urmo Aava and Guy Wilks round off the top five - giving Suzuki a masterful 1-2-3-4-5 formation. Only eight 'junior' competitors remain.
In total 35 drivers completed the second leg, a further 11 retiring during the course of today's six stages. Three drivers opted to take advantage of the 'SupeRally' format, namely Gilles Panizzi, Natalie Barratt and Jari-Matti Latvala, the former was the only one of the trio to complete all the days tests, having opted to 're-start'.
The final leg tomorrow [Sunday] is the shortest of the three, covering just 77.90km of competition. After leaving Kemer at 06.30, drivers tackle two loops of two identical speed tests before returning for the finish at 14.31. Both stages are unused so far this year and the second on each loop is new to the rally.