Rally Portugal - day 2: Loeb dominates
4 April 2009
Sebastien Loeb remains on course for a fourth World Rally Championship win of the season after completing a perfect day of six stage victories on leg two of the Rally Portugal
Loeb began the leg in third position, 18 seconds behind Mikko Hirvonen, but used his advantageous road position to snatch the lead on the second stage of the day, before gradually opening up the gap with six consecutive stage wins.
Resisting the temptation to play a tactical game and drop back behind Hirvonen ahead of tomorrow's tricky stages, Loeb was nonetheless able to put considerable distance between himself and his rival on the two runs through Almodovar.
Gaining 15 seconds on the Ford driver the first run through the stage and another 11 seconds later on in the day, the stage was a contributing factor in the 26.8 second advantage Loeb now has over Hirvonen with one day and five stages left to go.
Despite dropping significant time on Almodovar, Hirvonen was nonetheless still in contention throughout the afternoon, even if rising temperatures and abrasive surfaces served to cause some tyre problems towards the end of the day.
However, Hirvonen is not under too much pressure from Dani Sordo, who slipped from second to third on the first stage of the day and steadily fell away from the lead fight. His cause wasn't aided by a spin on SS10, one that puts him half a minute behind Hirvonen in the battle for second position.
Even so, he is unlikely to be embroiled in another fight for the podium with Petter Solberg, as he was in Cyprus, after the Norwegian driver remained steady in fourth with the Citroen Xsara WRC, a car that continues to run reliably – save for broken windscreen wipers.
Although the team appealed to regain the half a minute they believe Solberg lost navigating his way past a stricken Marcus Gronholm on the opening stage of the day, the former champion remains a minute behind Sordo, but even further ahead of Matthew Wilson in fifth position.
The British driver had hoped to be challenging Solberg on the second day, but while he has been consistent and error-free, he has progressively fallen away from his rival and ends the day less than a second up on Stobart Ford team-mate, and Petter's brother, Henning Solberg.
After struggling with brake issues yesterday, Solberg proved day two's biggest winner as he nearly prised fifth off Wilson having been down in ninth position earlier on.
Benefitting from Sebastien Ogier and Gronholm's retirement, the latter caused when he rolled and damaged his Subaru Impreza, as well as an off and a puncture for Evgeny Novikov, Solberg has set his sights on overhauling his team-mate on day three.
The battle for seventh and eighth is close too, Novikov snatching seventh back off Mads Ostberg on the afternoon's first stage, only for the Norwegian to reel him in to be less than a second behind ahead of the final day.
Yet to score this season, it is their position to lose as ninth place Conrad Rautenbach is almost two minutes adrift, while Federico Villagra is a further four minutes off a top eight finish.
Elsewhere, drama continued to afflict the Production WRC class, as Armindo Araujo was able to re-take the lead when Patrik Flodin rolled out of contention on SS12. Together with Eyvind Brynildsen and Martin Prokop losing considerable time on the final stage of the day, the Portuguese man is now more than two minutes ahead of the nearest competition ahead of what could be a famous win for the local driver.
In Junior WRC, Suzuki's Michael Kosciuszko continues to decimate the competition, more than four minutes ahead of Kevin Abbring, who moves up to second in his Renault Clio.