All prospects of a duel for victory between recently-crowned seven-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb and namesake and 2011 Citroën team-mate Sébastien Ogier on this weekend's Rallye de España have now disappeared, after the younger of the two Frenchmen crashed out of contention on the second morning, losing 15 minutes and with that all hope of triumphing.
As he focussed his efforts on chasing down overnight leader Loeb and overturning the 3.8-second gap separating the pair, Ogier – not completely happy with his C4 WRC – was on a charge on SS8, La Mussara, when at around 16km into the stage he misheard a pace note from co-driver Julien Ingrassia and entered a left-hand corner too fast, with the ensuing impact leaving his car with extensive right-rear damage and dropping him well down the leaderboard. Loeb had already further extended his advantage by pacing a treacherous SS7.
Ogier's costly error – aside from doing the 26-year-old's chances of holding onto the runner-up spot in the drivers' standings few favours – also gifted Loeb a handy three-quarters-of-a-minute margin over the new second-place man Petter Solberg, with the 2003 World Rally Champion overcoming BP Ford Abu Dhabi rival Jari-Matti Latvala despite himself admitting to tyre issues and 'a mistake at the start of the second stage'.
Local hero Dani Sordo, however, is fast homing in on both of them in fourth, having already dispatched the second works Ford of Mikko Hirvonen now that the action has moved away from gravel and onto super-smooth asphalt. As he bids to recover from a poor opening day, the second-quickest time on both SS8 and SS9 has brought the Spaniard back into the reckoning for a podium finish, and he confirmed that he is happier now that the surface has changed.
Less happy, however, was Hirvonen, who complained of overheating tyres on SS7, but at least the Finn is comfortably clear of sixth-placed Matthew Wilson, the best part of five minutes down on Loeb.
Meanwhile, much as Ogier's accident has dashed the fight for overall victory, so an incident for third-placed Aaron Burkart has effectively settled the battle for Junior World Rally Championship title glory, with an errant front wheel that worked its way off his Suzuki Swift sending the luckless German crashing down a bank.
The blow means Hans Weijs Jr can now content himself with second place in JWRC and still clinch the crown at the end of the rally.
“Obviously, I am quite upset,” Burkart told the official WRC website, with the event already holding bad memories for him following the death on it four years ago of his then co-driver Jörg Bastuck, who was killed when he was struck by another car whilst changing a tyre. “We had a good stage, but now this. I didn't hit any stones or anything. Okay, there were some aggressive cuts, but nothing too bad. I'm very disappointed.”
Rallye de España: Overall standings after Stage 9 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 2hrs 02mins 39.0secs
2. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 46.2secs
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 57.5secs
4. Dani Sordo
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +01mins 03.6secs
5. Mikko Hirvonen
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 15.9secs
6. Matthew Wilson
Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +04mins 50.3secs
7. Frigyes Turan
Peugeot 307 WRC +06mins 21.1secs
8. Henning Solberg
Stobart M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +07mins 22.3secs
9. Khalid Al Qassimi
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus WRC +07mins 47.1secs
10. Ken Block
Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +10mins 43.5secs
JWRC Standings after Stage 9 (Top 3):
1. Yeray Lemes
Renault Clio S1600 2hrs 15mins 54.5secs
2. Hans Weijs Jnr
Citroen C2 S1600 +00mins 27.5secs
3. Todor Slavov
Renault Clio R3 +03mins 17.6secs
all times unofficial