Argentina - day 2: Loeb closes in on victory
29 March 2008
Citroen #1 Sebastien Loeb looks poised to win in Cordoba for the fourth year in succession following day two of the Rally Argentina, a day which took its toll on the 'works' drivers.
The Frenchman began the leg with a 1.5 minute lead and he was third fastest in the first stage of the day, the 22.17 kilometre-run through Santa Monica 1, before topping the times in both SS11 and SS12.
Seb then posted the fourth best time in SS13 and returned to the mid-day service area with a 1 minute 32.4 second cushion, more or less what he had started the leg with.
In the afternoon he took another stage win in SS15 - his fourth of the event - as well as setting two second best times in SS14 and SS16, a third best in SS17.
Following the repeat run through the 1.78 kilometre super special, in which he was second, he concluded proceedings still way out front in his Citroen C4 WRC, although the gap was reduced ever so slightly to 1 minute 19.6 seconds.
Assuming the four-time world champion can get through the short final day, he will re-take the lead in the drivers' championship and with Mikko Hirvonen only on course to take three points it would give him a six point lead going into the inaugural WRC event in Jordan, which takes place at the end of April.
Petter Solberg meanwhile is currently second and set for his first rostrum result since the Acropolis Rally of Greece last summer.
Petter moved in front of his Subaru team-mate, Chris Atkinson on the very first stage this morning and pulled further ahead in SS11. Although the Aussie responded in SS12 and SS13, and cut the gap back to 4.1 seconds, Petter made sure of P2 on the repeat loop, taking four stage wins from five, and as a result he finished up almost 50 seconds ahead.
Citroen #2 Dani Sordo is next up and in a lonely fourth, a further 1 minute 23.6 seconds adrift of Atkinson, while Conrad Rautenbach is fifth, in his privately entered PH Sport-run C4 WRC.
The Zimbabwean had a solid day and looks set to score his first ever 'senior' WRC points on only his second outing with the C4, albeit more than 10 minutes off the top four and having benefited from the misfortune that has struck most of the 'works' drivers.
Further down the order, Mikko Hirvonen is up to sixth, despite having to retire half-way through day 1. The Finn re-started this morning under the SupeRally and is now set to score three points.
Federico Villagra and Andreas Aigner complete the provisional points' scorers, the latter also on course to take the Production class victory, just under a minute up on Nasser Al-Attiyah, who is ninth. Sebastian Beltran completes the top ten.
A number of drivers' had problems today and retired from the leg - including six in World Rally Cars.
Gigi Galli went out following the morning loop after hitting a rock in SS13 and damaging his exhaust. Jari-Matti Latvala also missed the afternoon loop, as did Henning Solberg, who was withdrawn to preserve his car for the next event.
Per-Gunnar Andersson was the first to hit trouble this afternoon when he damaged the suspension on his SX4 WRC in SS14, while Matthew Wilson followed him out in the next stage for exactly the same reason and Toni Gardemeister was sidelined in the penultimate test after he suffered a hydraulic problem.
Luis-Perez Companc was unable to re-join the fold under the SupeRally after sliding into a ditch on Friday.
The action now concludes on Sunday, with just three stages and 42 competitive kilometres on the bill. SS19, the 24.70 kilometre-run through Mina Clavero-Giulio Cesare starts at 09.13 hours local time.