Ireland - day 2: Loeb still in control
1 January 1901
Sebastien Loeb remains convincingly on course to win the Rally Ireland, the opening round in the 2009 World Rally Championship, following day two of the event on Saturday.
The Citroen team leader, who ended Friday's opening day with a 44.4 second lead, was on it right from the off this morning and he completed the first test, the 27.76 kilometre-run through Sloughan Glen 1, 12.7 seconds up on his team-mate, Dani Sordo, who was 'best of the rest'.
Loeb then increased his cushion further in SS10 and SS11, 9.7 seconds quicker than anyone else in Ballinamallard 1 and 5.4 seconds ahead in Tempo 1, to return to the mid-day service with his overall advantage well over a minute.
On the repeat loop in the afternoon, he lost around 12 seconds in SS12, when he briefly went off on the grass. Despite that though, Seb pushed on in SS13 and SS14, setting another two quickest stage times and like on Friday, he concluded the day having won 5 from 6.
The five-time world champion will now take a 1 minute 9.1 second cushion into the final leg and barring misfortune or really bad luck, he looks to have it in the bag.
Dani Sordo meanwhile is equally comfortable in second place, over a minute up on Mikko Hirvonen in P3. The Spaniard had a pretty uneventful day and his only real drama, just like Seb, came in Sloughan Glen 2, when he stalled at a hairpin and lost around ten seconds.
Mikko was unable to capitalise on that however, after he slipped back this morning in SS10 and SS11, when he lost his power steering. The Finn is now driving to ensure he takes the final spot on the podium.
Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg is next up and fourth in his Focus. He lost out with a puncture in the first test of the day and has been powerless to stop Chris Atkinson from closing in.
Indeed at the start of day 2, Henning was more than 1.5 minutes in front, that gap though is now virtually gone and thanks to top four times in every stage - including a second quickest effort and three thirds - Atkinson is now just 4.7 seconds adrift of P4.
Further down the order, Sebastien Ogier is sixth, despite a bad start, when he went off the road and lost around two minutes. He slipped down a few places as a result, but managed to pass Matthew Wilson this afternoon in SS13.
Wilson ended day two in seventh, 37.9 seconds off Ogier, while Khalid Al Qassimi is eighth and on course to score his first point in the WRC, in the 'third' BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Focus RS WRC 08.
Of the rest, Eamonn Boland leads the way for the Irish runners in ninth, followed by Aaron MacHale, SupeRally re-starter, Urmo Aava and then Gareth MacHale, Tim McNulty and Alan Ring. Gareth MacHale had been in the points until turbo problems dropped him down the leaderboard in the final test.
In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Aaron Burkart re-took top spot this morning and now lies over a minute up on Martin Prokop, who is second.
Hans Weijs had been in contention and within striking distance of the lead in the J-WRC until he crashed out in SS14. He has since been taken to hospital for a pre-cautionary check-up. His co-driver, Bjorn de Gandt was unharmed.
Of the other retirees, the only 'works' man to go out on day two was Conrad Rautenbach. The Zimbabwean, who started fifth in his Citroen Junior Team-run C4 WRC, went off the road and into a ditch in Sloughan Glen 1. It is not yet known if he will re-start under the SupeRally.
The action now concludes on Sunday with five stages on the bill and around 52 competitive kilometres. SS15, the 11.48 kilometre-run through Geevagh starts at 08.35 hours local time.