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France - leg 2: Loeb dominates

13 October 2007

Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb convincingly cemented his place at the top of leader-board on Saturday during the second leg of the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse.

Loeb began the day by topping the times in SS7 - 2.7 seconds up on Marcus Gronholm, who was 'best of the rest'. The Frenchman then set another top time in SS8, 3.8 seconds up on Gronholm, before taking his sixth stage win on the trot in SS9, to gain another 1.3 seconds on his chief championship rival.

Seb thus returned to the mid-day service area having increased his advantage from 4.8 seconds at the start of the day to 12.6 seconds going into the lunch time halt.

In the afternoon he continued to pull away and while his team-mate, Daniel Sordo won SS10, Loeb was only 0.3 seconds slower - and significantly 4.4 seconds up on Gronholm. The Citroen #1 driver then took another two stage wins in SS11 and SS12 and finished the day having taking five wins from six.

He will now take a comfortable 27.5 second advantage into the third and final day and is well set to take his third win in succession on his home event: “It's been a fantastic day and I've fought hard to stretch my advantage,” said Loeb. “This should hopefully mean that I need to take fewer risks tomorrow.”

Gronholm for his part had no answer to Seb's pace and despite pushing as hard as he could he had to settle for second best in all the tests, bar SS10. That allowed him to pull away from Sordo in third, but also meant he was unable to challenge for the lead.

“Catching Loeb is mission impossible,” said the Finn. "I've had a few gear selection problems in this last test too.”

Sordo meanwhile struggled for grip in SS8 and SS9 this morning and consequently was unable to close on Gronholm. Indeed the margin between them increased three-fold on the first loop going up from around 14 seconds last night to 35 seconds going into service D.

Although Dani felt more comfortable in the afternoon he was unable to cut the deficit that much and finished 30.7 seconds adrift of the runners-up spot: “I'm going to try and stay in touch with Gronholm on Sunday to keep the pressure on him,” Dani vowed.

Further down the order, Francois Duval set some strong times in his OMV Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC, posting the third best time in Carbuccia and then two fourth best efforts in SS8 and SS9. The Belgian lost time though in the final two stages, due to gearbox and brake issues and was forced to retire on the final road section due mechanical problems.

Duval's problems pushed Jari-Matti Latvala up to P4, 7 seconds up on Petter Solberg, his nearest challenger. The Stobart Ford man had a strong day and set three top five times, overhauling 'Hollywood' for P5 in SS8 and then inching further away this afternoon.

Petter had problems with his tyres on the first loop and then continued to struggle with over-steer in SS10, SS11 and SS12 - just like on day 1. He remains in contention though for fourth and the battle between him and Latvala could be one of the highlights on the final day.

Further back, Chris Atkinson and Xavier Pons are sixth and seventh, while Skoda privateer, Jan Kopkecy rounds out the provisional points' scorers, followed by Stobart Ford duo, Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson.

Outside of the top ten, Dani Sola finished the day in eleventh with Brice Tirabassi 12th - both fighting over the Group N spoils in their Peugeot 207 S2000s.

In the FIA Junior Rally Championship category, Martin Prokop leads in his Citroen C2 S1600 having benefited from the problems that hit Suzuki duo, Urmo Aava and Per-Gunnar Andersson in SS8.

Aava, who was leading by more than 10 seconds, made a crucial error and crashed out in Calcatoggio 1. It has yet to be confirmed if he will be able to re-start or not. If he cannot P-G is guaranteed the Junior title as while they are equal top in the JRC standings - both having scored 38 points, P-G has the edge in terms of wins, three to Urmo's 1.

SS8 though wasn't kind to Andersson either and he lost over 2 minutes with a puncture, dropping from second to fourth. The Swede finished the day fifth overall.

Jozef Beres is on course for the JRC runners-up spot - 34.9 seconds off Aava, while Conrad Rautenbach completes the podium, a further 35 seconds or so adrift.

Yoann Bonato is next up - fourth in the class and he has had a brilliant day on his first outing in a Citroen C2 S1600, setting the JRC pace in every single test.

Of the 'big' retirees on day 1 - namely Mikko Hirvonen, Nicolas Bernardi and Alessandro Bettega, all three re-started this morning under the SupeRally. The latter made the most progress and finished the day 14th overall, while Hirvonen is now just inside the top 30 in the #2 BP Ford Focus.

Bernardi did not complete the second leg however in the new Suzuki SX4 WRC car - he retired en-route to SS11 due to engine problems. Prior to that he had set the 16th best time in SS7, the 14th best in SS8, the 12th best in SS9 and the 13th best in SS10.

The action now resumes on Sunday at 07.55 hours local time, when SS13 - the 24.24 kilometre-run through Penitencier-Coti-Pietra Rossa 1, kicks off the third and final leg. Two tests will be run on day 3, both repeated twice, totally around 112 competitive kilometres.


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