Loeb in a league of his own in Sardinia
30 April 2005
Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb looks almost unstoppable following leg two in Sardinia today [Saturday], the Frenchman having practically doubled his advantage since last night.
Although his lead remained around the 30-second mark for most of the day, in the final test Loeb put in an astonishing time, to go 20 seconds quicker than anyone else and finish the day just under a minute ahead of Petter Solberg, who is 'best of the rest' in second.
Loeb won three of the five tests during the leg, to add to his four notched up on Friday and assuming he stays on the road and doesn't have any mechanical dramas, then the win must surely be his...
"By the time it was my turn to tackle the stages they had obviously been swept clear," explained the reigning champion. "But they were also badly cut up with a lot of rocks thrown up by the first cars through. You really had to stay concentrated all the time. I pushed quite hard while trying to drive as cleanly as possible. This is the sort of event where you can end up losing time if you try too hard and you risk hitting trouble."
Petter Solberg meanwhile is equally safe in second, a good two minutes up on Harri Rovanpera, who currently holds third.
Furthermore while the Norwegian managed to stay in touch with Loeb throughout most of the second leg, even nibbling into his lead following his stage win in SS8, that last test must surely have been the final nail in the coffin, in terms of him harbouring any hopes of winning.
"When you look at how fast Sebastien is going, we have to be pleased with where we are. That's just how it is sometimes. I pushed as hard as I could, but clearly we have some work still to do," admitted Solberg.
Rovanpera though is less secure in third, and he will have to battle hard tomorrow to hold off the Peugeot's of Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin.
"Marcus and Markko are pushing hard but we see what happens tomorrow; it's another long day," noted Mitsubishi's team leader. "Today has been great and the car is better; the small changes we made from the test seem to be helping us in rougher conditions."
Gronholm has been pushing hard ever since his roll in SS3 and the Finn finally got ahead of his team-mate in the last test of the day.
"It's been a good day, and I hope it will get even better tomorrow," continued Marcus. "I've had a good feeling with the car and the tyres, although these stages do not get any easier! The car has been entirely reliable and I have had enough confidence to push hard. In many ways this makes me regret my accident of yesterday: without that I think we could have been pushing for victory."
Toni Gardemeister had been in the thick of the battle for the final spot on the podium too, but oil pressure problems on the final test forced him to pull out. He now overnights in eighth, one place behind his team-mate, Roman Kresta, while Mark Higgins is sixth in a privateer Focus.
"We didn't want to risk destroying Toni's engine so we retired him from the leg in the last stage," explained team boss, Malcolm Wilson. "We will bring the car back to the service park and look at the data. Hopefully we can fix everything tonight and he will be able to start the final leg tomorrow."
Juuso Pykalisto and Antony Warmbold round out the top ten, while works drivers' Janne Tuohino and Stephane Sarrazin are 12th and 13th, with Francois Duval 14th. Duval re-started today under the SupeRally regulations and both Tuohino and Sarrazin will do the same tomorrow, having stopped in the final test.
Armin Schwarz is 16th, the lead Skoda driver having had clutch problems in SS11, while Chris Atkinson clobbered another rock in SS8. They will also take advantage of the SupeRally format tomorrow, providing their mechanics can fix their cars.
Gigi Galli is still running in the second works Mitsubishi, the Italian though had a series of problems and as a consequence is way down the pack, 47th overall. His stage win in SS9, showed though that if the car had been reliable then he could have been right up there with Rovanpera.
Overall it was a day of attrition with 26 cars going out. In addition to the works drivers mentioned, Mikko Hirvonen, third overnight went out on the first test of the day after taking two wheels off his Focus, while Xavier Pons also crashed in the same stage, blocking the road and delaying proceedings by around 45 minutes. The drivers' behind him were given notional times.
In the Junior WRC its all change, overnight leader, Kosti Katajamaki has dropped down to third, while Daniel Sordo leads in the Citroen C2, ahead of Suzuki's Urmo Aava.
Brit Kris Meeke had been on course for the win, to add to that notched up back in January at Monte Carlo, however he hit problems in the last stage, and assuming he can re-start, will do so from fourth position overall.
The final leg tomorrow [Sunday] is the shortest of the rally. It contains just 66.32km of competition, divided into two loops of three stages west of Olbia, two of the tests based on the slopes around the historic town of Tempio Pausania. Competitors leave Olbia at 06.30 and reach the finish ceremony in the exclusive holiday resort of Porto Rotondo at 14.30.