Loeb increases lead on Rally Ireland

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb maintained his stranglehold on the Rally Ireland this morning, despite the atrocious conditions, which continue to make this opening round in the 2009 World Rally Championship extra challenging.

Loeb, who ended Friday's shortened opening day with a 44.4 second lead, was on it right from the off and he completed the first test, the 27.76 kilometre-run through Sloughan Glen 1, in 14 minutes 43.3 seconds - 12.7 seconds up on his team-mate, Dani Sordo.

The Frenchman 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.

He thus returned to service in Sligo with his overall advantage now well over a minute.

Sordo meanwhile continues to hold P2 overall and the Spaniard saw the margin to Mikko Hirvonen grow substantially in SS10 and SS11, when the Finn was slowed by power steering problems.

Hirvonen now lies 1 minute 17 seconds adrift and understandably no longer thinks he is in the running for the runners-up spot.

"Five kilometres from the end of the second stage this morning the pump broke going into a corner," he explained. "The car moved around a lot in the water and it was hard to 'catch' the sudden moves without power steering.

“My fight with Sordo is now over. I'm more than a minute behind him and that is too much to catch unless he has problems. There's so much water in the stages that it has washed away the mud."

Further down the order, Henning Solberg remains in a reasonably lonely fourth in his Stobart Ford Focus, although Chris Atkinson now holds fifth - and he had a great morning, posting two third fastest times and a fourth.

Britain's Matthew Wilson is next up, having moved up two places from eighth to sixth, with Sebastien Ogier seventh and Gareth MacHale eighth.

Related Pictures

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Sebastien Loeb (FRA) Daniel Elena (MON), Citroën C4, Citroën Total World Rally Team

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