Citroen's Sebastien Loeb saw his advantage at the head of the Rally of Great Britain field almost halved on the opening stage today.
The Frenchman left Cardiff this morning for day 2 5.3 seconds ahead of Mikko Hirvonen but the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT driver was 2.4 seconds quicker through Rhondda forest, SS7, to increase the pressure on the reigning champion in the fight for the 2009 WRC drivers' title.
Hirvonen was actually 4 seconds faster than Loeb at the second stage split but, despite the Citroen driver reporting that a tree branch had become jammed in his windscreen wipers, Loeb was able to reduce the deficit by the end of the 35 kilometre stage, the longest of the event.
Loeb's lead is now down from 5.3 seconds overnight to 2.9 seconds: “It's a great fight,” said Loeb. “But it's raining a lot and we had problems with our wipers with them sticking after we had a small branch stuck in them - we couldn't see for a long time.”
“A good start but very difficult,” Hirvonen added. “I had a good rhythm there and I just kept on going. I'm just going flat out and seeing how it goes.”
Petter Solberg meanwhile suffered total wiper failure on his Citroen C4 causing the Norwegian to slip back to fourth place, 18 seconds behind Dani Sordo.
“I had problems with the wipers at the start – they didn't work at all,” the Norwegian confirmed. “It was raining so much so I couldn't go flat out and because it gets hot inside here it made for a real problem with mist on the inside of the windscreen. We'll get the wipers looked at in service.”
“I was happy with my drive in there – it was a good run and I'm back up to third place after that,” Sordo continued. “The car is moving round a lot and it gives you a lot of feel.”
Further down the order, Sebastien Ogier remains fifth followed by Stobart Ford duo Henning Solberg and Matt Wilson.
“Very bad in there,” said Ogier. “This is not fun to drive and you don't want to have a reason to have an accident.”
Of the rest Jari-Matti Latvala is now up to eighth, with Conrad Rautenbach dropping to ninth and Aaron Burkart rounded out the top ten.
“I have all wheels working this morning, and my god I need it!” Latvala stated. “The grip is quite okay but when you hit standing water you have to be careful, especially if it's lying in the braking zones.”
Competitors now head to Crychan and Halfway forests with more heavy rain and slippery conditions forecast.