Crash.Net WRC News
Ireland - leg 2: Loeb in command
17 November 2007
Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb has finished day 2 of the inaugural Rally Ireland in a seemingly invincible position.
Loeb began the second leg 11.2 seconds up on his team-mate, Daniel Sordo, and while conditions were pretty slippery following rain during the opening loop, it didn't seem to stop him.
Indeed the triple world champion was 6 seconds up on his nearest rival in Sloughan Glen 1 and then topped the times again in SS12 and SS13, and with Sordo having lost around 30 seconds in Ballinamallard 1, the Frenchman headed back to the mid-day service area having increased his cushion to 50.4 seconds.
Seb opted to pace himself a bit more this afternoon, on the repeat runs, and was 'only' third fastest in SS14, 2.5 seconds off Chris Atkinson. He won the next test though – to take his fourth stage win of the day and his ninth of the event, before settling for the fifth best time in SS16, the last stage of the day, 6.3 seconds behind Jari-Matti Latvala.
Loeb will now take a 59.3 second advantage into the final leg and while it is not over, as conditions are by no means easy, he is looking good to take advantage of Marcus Gronholm's off on day 1 and seize the lead in the race for the 2007 drivers' title.
Sordo for his part had a pretty good day, although he did have a bit of a moment on SS12, when he went off the road and got stuck on a concrete wall.
The Spaniard was helped back on again by some spectators and he continued on his way, despite slightly damaging the bodywork on his C4 WRC around the left-front wheel.
Stobart Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile also had a bit of a scare when he went off the road in SS14 and into a field. That incident cost him around 20 seconds and as a result Mikko Hirvonen closed back up. Jari though still finished the day 28.8 seconds ahead.
Hirvonen opted for a cautious approach on day 2, conscious that he needs to get to the finish and score at least 3 points in order to sow up the manufacturers' crown for the BP Ford WRT. He conceded though that this didnt make things easy and that he was struggling to find a good rhythm as he was going too steady.
Petter Solberg consequently slashed the gap to Mikko from 26 seconds overnight to just 12.6 heading into service E. In the afternoon though 'Hollywood' was unable to make any more inroads and actually slipped back a bit, now 15.6 seconds adrift in his Impreza.
Further down the order, Guy Wilks continues to go extremely well in his privately entered Subaru Impreza and is currently in P6. The Englishman set top ten times in all but one stage today, to add to the eight he managed on leg 1. The Brit is currently on course to score his first ever 'senior' WRC points and with a big gap to Petter in front in fifth and an equally big gap back to seventh, he now just needs to keep it on the road and bring his car home.
Fellow countryman, Matthew Wilson is also on course to get some points. Wilson Jr finished the day seventh overall, while Gareth MacHale rounds out the provisional points' scorers' in eighth, also in a Ford Focus RS WRC.
Of the rest, Andreas Mikkelsen is ninth, while Armindo Araujo completes the top ten in his Mitsubishi Evo.
Araujo inherited the lead in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship category in the final stage, when Mark Higgins rolled out. Higgins, who needed to win to keep his hopes of taking the PWRC crown alive, had led practically throughout and was more than 30 seconds up on Araujo prior to his off.
Niall McShea is second in the PWRC category, 26.4 seconds off the lead, with Gabriel Pozzo third, Nasser Al-Attiyah fourth and Simone Campedelli fifth. Pozzo is now the only man between Toshi Arai and his second PWRC title. Pozzo needs to finish at least second though to remain in the running. Arai is not competing this weekend in Ireland, as he has already taken in his six nominated events.
In terms of retirees, in addition to Higgins, Andrew Nesbitt and Tim McNulty both went out this morning, the former going off the road, while the latter had mechanical problems.
Manfred Stohl also went out in his OMV Kronos Citroen Xsara WRC. Stohl lost over 6 minutes this morning in SS11, dropping him from 7th to 15th. He then went off the road again though in SS13, but this time could not continue. It is not yet known if the Austrian will be able to re-start on Sunday under the SupeRally.
Stohl now joins fellow 'works' drivers' Marcus Gronholm and Xavier Pons on the sidelines, both having gone out on day 1 in SS4.
Henning Solberg also went off on Friday, but he re-started this morning under the SupeRally. He is currently running in 20th place. Chris Atkinson is also still going in the #2 Subaru WRT car - but he is 5 minutes further back, in 28th position, after he lost around 20 minutes yesterday in Lough Gill 1.
The action now continues on Sunday - just four stages and 55.91 competitive kilometres remain. SS17 - the 24.70 kilometre-run through Murley, starts at 09.03 hours local time.