Clean sweep leaves Loeb sitting pretty
25 June 2005
Citroen number one driver, Sebastien Loeb utterly dominated the second leg of the Acropolis Rally today [Saturday], the overnight leader winning all eight of the day's tests in his Xsara WRC.
The Frenchman now leads by over 1 minute and looks all but certain to win a record-breaking fifth event in succession.
"It was a perfect day," said the reigning world champion. "The car was perfect, we made the right tyre choice and I just had to concentrate on my driving. I was pushing this morning and had to give my all in the battle with Marcus. Finally, and since he had problems, I managed to lead by more than a minute in front of Toni. Tomorrow is a long day with tricky stages. At the Acropolis anything is possible."
Toni Gardemeister meanwhile is second, the Finn getting ahead of Carlos Sainz on SS13, while Marcus Gronholm dropped down to fourth overall, after a driveshaft broke on his Peugeot in the same test. Gronholm lost over a minute in Pavliani 2 and conceded further time in SS14 and SS15.
"On the road section after the short SS12, I felt the car pull to one side and at first I thought it was a problem with a wheel or a tyre," said Marcus. "But then off the line on the next stage the transmission was slipping, so I knew the problem was much more serious. The only thing I could do was lock the diffs and try to carry on, but the car was extremely difficult to drive. We did everything we could but of course we lost a lot of time so the chances to win are gone. Now we just have to concentrate on scoring the most points possible."
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile is still fifth, in his privately run Ford Focus, while Mitsubishi duo, Harri Rovanpera and Gigi Galli are sixth and seventh, with Markko Martin rounding out the provisional points scorers.
Of the remaining 'works' drivers, Petter Solberg now lies ninth, while his team-mate, Stephane Sarrazin is 19th after re-starting this morning under the SupeRally system. Skoda team leader, Armin Schwarz also took advantage of this to clock up more miles in the Fabia, he overnights in 23rd place overall.
Jani Paasonen was the sole 'works' retirement today, the Finn crashing in SS9, when he went off the road in his Fabia. Like his team-mate, Janne Tuohino and Chris Atkinson, who were both unable to re-start on the second leg, Paasonen will not be able to re-start tomorrow.
"I was trying so hard not to make a mistake and so this was really bad luck," said the Finn. "It was about 12kms into the stage on a fast left into a tightening right. The car slid a little bit wide and the left wheels went over the edge of the road. Normally there is something extra there but this time there was just nothing. The car rolled about three times and it was so slow that I had a lot of time to think about what was happening. It stopped about 20 metres down with no chance to get back."
In the Junior WRC, like the 'senior' class, Per-Gunnar Andersson still remains out front, comfortably ahead of fellow Suzuki drivers', Urmo Aava and Guy Wilks, who are second and third respectively, over 3 minutes adrift.
"It was another hot and rough day, which was almost certainly the toughest of the rally," said P-G. "Luckily we were able to start the day with enough of a lead not to have to push hard on the really rough parts, which was always the plan here. Of course you can never relax, but we were able to look after the car a bit and choose our lines carefully. The Ignis has once more been very easy to drive, despite the fact that conditions were really tricky."
The final leg tomorrow [Sunday] comprises just four stages covering 98.79km. The opening two are based north-west of Lamia in the Timphristos mountains before returning to the Mount Iti area for the final two tests. Three of the four stages are new to the rally and the penultimate test is the longest of the event at 34.80km. Drivers leave Lamia at 07.00 and return for the finish ceremony at 14.25.