At the end of the second day of the 2010 Rallye de España, Sébastien Loeb continues to maintain comfortable control of proceedings, as his Citroën World Rally Team (CWRT) team-mate Dani Sordo has come alive in his bid to snatch the runner-up spot from former world champion Petter Solberg.
Another trouble-free day means Loeb – who celebrated clinching an incredible seventh straight World Rally Championship drivers' crown on home turf in France three weeks ago – will head into Sunday holding an advantage of just shy of three quarters of a minute over the pursuing Solberg, who triumphed on Saturday's final televised stage of Riudecanyes albeit admitted afterwards that he has now settled for the runner-up laurels in his privately-entered C4.
“It's been a great day and we have a good lead,” Loeb told the official WRC website. “We've had some fun in the stages, but we're not taking any big risks.”
“I'm not kidding myself – second place is the best I can hope for here, and actually if we do that it will be a very good achievement,” reflected Solberg. “We have to keep trying, though, so I'll be pushing until the very last stage. You never, ever give up!”
Indeed, the popular Norwegian perhaps ought to be rather more worried about the gap behind him, with the flying Sordo continuing to home in. Following a distinctly and inexplicably off-colour opening day, the local hero made some set-up changes that seemed to transform his performance on day two, and after storming through SS10 and SS11, the Spaniard successfully moved BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala into third.
Having finished runner-up to Loeb on this event every year since 2006, the 27-year-old is palpably determined to maintain that ultra-consistent pattern, but whilst he is closing in on his prey, Solberg hit back on SS12, hinting that whatever is thrown at him, he has an answer to. The pair are separated by just under 17 seconds entering the final day, with Latvala – much happier now following an improvement to his damper settings – still very much in touch in fourth place, ten seconds further in arrears after losing time on the last stage.
“It was actually better for me the second time round this afternoon compared to this morning,” the Finn revealed, “but unfortunately I made a mistake on the roundabout where I didn't quite know where to go – maybe because there were so many people around!”
Still, that was as nothing compared to what befell team-mate and countryman Mikko Hirvonen, with a turbo pipe on the 2008 and 2009 world championship runner-up's Focus coming stray and costing the 30-year-old and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen more than four minutes on the 26km SS10. The following Sordo similarly lost time as a result, getting caught up behind Hirvonen and giving the Finn a few small, friendly nudges at the rear to encourage him to move out of the way.
“I didn't see him there and I'm sorry for that,” confessed Hirvonen, who continues to run fifth, albeit now a long way behind Latvala after insult compounded injury when he picked up a 30-second penalty for arriving at the start of SS11 three minutes late due to repairs having to be carried out.
Even greater tales of woe, however, could be told by Munchi's ace Federico Villagra – who suffered a fan belt problem on his Ford Focus that dropped the Argentine out of the top ten and now expects to re-start on Sunday under SupeRally regulations – and Sébastien Ogier, who having harried Loeb for the lead on the opening day, paid a hefty price for an error on Saturday morning with suspension damage to his C4, effectively rendering the remainder of his rally a glorified test session.
“Now this is just a drive for practice,” he admitted. “It's a shame, because I had a good feeling this morning. I was trying as hard as possible – I have no regrets.”
Rallye de España: Overall standings after Stage 9 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 2hrs 40mins 01.9secs
2. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 44.4secs
3. Dani Sordo
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +01mins 01.3secs
4. Jari-Matti Latvala
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01mins 11.4secs
5. Mikko Hirvonen
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +06mins 12.5secs
6. Matthew Wilson
Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +06mins 28.3secs
7. Frigyes Turan
Peugeot 307 WRC +07mins 48.6secs
8. Henning Solberg
Stobart M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +09mins 50.3secs
9. Khalid Al Qassimi
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus WRC +09mins 54.3secs
10. Ken Block
Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +13mins 20.9secs
JWRC Standings after Stage 9 (Top 3):
1. Yeray Lemes
Renault Clio S1600 2hrs 56mins 26.4secs
2. Hans Weijs Jnr
Citroen C2 S1600 +00mins 14.1secs
3. Todor Slavov
Renault Clio R3 +05mins 01.3secs
all times unofficial