Loeb set to win in Spain again?
25 March 2006
Kronos Citroen ace, Sebastien Loeb closed in on his second victory of the year on Saturday, following the second leg of the Rally Catalunya, the fourth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.
Loeb paced himself through the two runs through Duesaigues and Vilaplana, where the stages were strewn with large rocks, gravel and sand, while he put the hammer down in Margalef-La Palma d'Ebre, winning it both times.
The Frenchman ended the day with a comfortable 30-odd second lead and if he takes the victory on Sunday, it will be his second in succession in Spain, after winning in October last year. It will also help cement his place at the top of the drivers' championship, as he bids to win his third title. All-in-all it was a pretty uneventful day for Loeb, although he did have a scare in SS10, when he hit a rock and damaged the steering on his Xsara.
Reigning Junior champion, Daniel Sordo meanwhile is still 'best of the rest' and he even managed to win SS10, to further emphasize his credentials in a WRC car. The Spaniard is now very a comfortable second, after Xavier Pons was forced to stop in SS10, bad news for Kronos and Citroen, who up to that point looked set to lock-out the podium places.
Pons misfortune though benefited Peugeot privateer, Alex Bengue, who ends the day third. Bengue though will come until immense pressure on Sunday, as Marcus Gronholm is only 4.2 seconds behind in his Ford Focus.
The Finn has been on it all day, pumping in quick times to pull himself back up the leaderboard after turbo problems at the end of day one dropped him down to tenth overnight. If Gronholm's does take third, which no doubt he will, it will complete a fantastic recovery drive for him.
Further down the field, Jan Kopecky is fifth in his Czech Rally Team Skoda Fabia, just over 6 seconds up on Francois Duval, who is also in a Fabia, but one run by First Motorsport. Duval felt more comfortable with the Skoda today and even managed to set the joint quickest time on SS7, along with Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen.
Subaru duo, Petter Solberg and Stephane Sarrazin complete the top eight, after another disappointing day for the Banbury based squad. 'Hollywood' began the day fourth, but lost out to Bengue in SS7, Kopecky in SS8, Gronholm in SS9 and Duval in SS12. He had a number of problems, including a spin on SS9, which cost him around 20-30 seconds and several punctures this afternoon.
Red Bull Skoda driver, Gilles Panizzi and OMV's Manfred Stohl come in ninth and tenth, the latter 20 seconds or up on Mikko Hirvonen, who is eleventh and who like his Ford team-mate Gronholm, lost time at the end of day one with a turbo problem.
Of the rest Chris Atkinson is twelfth in the third 'works' Subaru, ahead of Andreas Aigner and Matthew Wilson in 13th and 14th respectively. Wilson's Stobart VK team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala was able to re-start and he ended the day 18th, while Pons will be 16th on the leader-board on Sunday, if he can re-start under the SupeRally format.
In the Junior World Rally Championship, Martin Prokop still leads, potentially giving Citroen the honours in that class as well, he is just under 30 seconds up on Bernd Casier's Renault Clio, who is second. Early leader, Kris Meeke has made progress meanwhile after his troubles on day one when he hits Latvala's parked Focus and he is now back in the points.
The action will now resume on Sunday, with two tests - El Lloar-la Figuera and Pratdip, both of which will be run twice, before the finish back at Salou.