Sebastien Loeb will start the final day of Rally Italia Sardegna with a 23.8 second advantage over his closest rival.
Loeb, who finished day 1 33.2 seconds ahead, more or less maintained that gap this morning in his Citroen DS3 WRC, even though he had to run first on the road and sweep away the loose gravel. Following the mid-day service, Loeb saw his advantage cut back from 30.9 seconds to 22.3 seconds in SS12, but the second best time in SS13 re-affirmed his position and after going fourth in SS14, he ended Saturday's leg 23.8 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen.
“I think I can fight tomorrow,” said Loeb. “Today was a good day, we'll see what happens. It is sometimes difficult to accept that we were losing time. The advantage we have should be enough, but tomorrow will be a difficult day.”
Hirvonen meanwhile hasn't given up on trying to win and trying to overhaul Loeb - although he will have to keep an eye on Sebastien Ogier and Petter Solberg, as both are right behind. Indeed Ogier is 10.8 seconds off Hirvonen in P3, while Solberg is 4.9 seconds further back in fourth.
“I'll definitely try to catch Loeb tomorrow although it will be difficult,” Hirvonen admitted. “Petter and Ogier are not far behind [either], you never know what can happen.”
“Tomorrow we will fight for second place,” added Ogier, who slipped to fourth in SS11, but re-took third immediately on the repeat loop this afternoon. “Everything was okay for us today, beautiful stages, we reduced the gap from Loeb. It will be tough until the end.”
Mads Ostberg remains in fifth, albeit now over 1.5 minutes off P4, while Dani Sordo is sixth on his debut in the new MINI John Cooper Works WRC car.
"The day was not so bad," Sordo reflected. "I am happy with the car and happier than yesterday as I have more confidence in the car. We have learnt a lot because this is our first rally for the car, we have done a lot of kilometres and also have a lot of information, which is what we came here to do. The performance of the MINI is good and we are really close to the car in front. Tomorrow I just try to finish the rally because there are some fairly difficult stages and the power stage left.”
Further back, SWRC leader Ott Tanak is seventh, followed by Juho Hanninen – his closest class rival, 48.6 seconds adrift – and then Britain's Matthew Wilson and Nasser Al-Attiyah. Dennis Kuipers and Khalid Al-Qassimi complete the top twelve.
Of the rest, Evgeny Novikov, Federico Villagra and Jari-Matti Latvala were the most notable runners to re-start today under the SupeRally and they now lie 15th, 18th and 26th respectively. Latvala was fastest in five of the days six tests, but after his early exit on day 1 it was all pretty academic. Kris Meeke also re-joined, but stopped again in SS10.
Henning Solberg was not able to re-start and neither was Peter van Merksteijn Sr. Peter van Merksteijn Jr joined them on the sidelines after SS11 due to an engine problem.
The action now concludes on Sunday with 65.58 competitive kilometres on the bill - and four separate stages. SS15, the 8.24 km-run through Gallura, begins at 06.50 hours local time [05.50 hours UK time].
Rally d'Italia Sardegna: Overall standings after Stage 14 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 2hrs 57mins 05.7secs
2. Mikko Hirvonen
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 23.8secs
3. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 34.6secs
4. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 39.5secs
5. Mads Ostberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 44.9secs
6. Dani Sordo
Mini WRC Team John Cooper Works +02mins 29.0secs
7. Ott Tanak
Ford Fiesta S2000 +05mins 19.6secs
8. Juho Hanninen
Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 +06mins 08.2secs
9. Matthew Wilson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06mins 12.5secs
10. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Ford Fiesta S2000 +10mins 16.7secs
11. Dennis Kuipers
FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +10mins 34.9secs
12. Khalid Al-Qassimi
Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +10mins 42.8secs
13. Armindo Araujo
Motorsport Italia Mini John Cooper Works +10mins 44.5secs
15. Evgeny Novikov
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +12mins 52.2secs
18. PG Andersson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +18mins 26.3secs
19. Federico Villagra
Munchis Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +25mins 46.7secs
26. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +34mins 13.4secs
SWRC standings after Stage 14 (Top 3):
1. Ott Tanak
Ford Fiesta S2000 3hrs 02mins 25.3secs
2. Juho Hanninen
Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 48.6secs
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Ford Fiesta S2000 +04mins 57.1secs
WRC Academy standings after Stage 14 (Top 3)#:
1. Egon Kaur
Ford Fiesta R2 3hours 29mins 39.4secs
2. Miguel Baldoni
Ford Fiesta R2 +01mins 42.1secs
3. Fredrik Ahlin
Ford Fiesta R2 +02mins 42.3secs
# WRC Academy does not include Day 3 of the event.
SS2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC Suspension
SS2. Daniel Oliveira
Brazil WRT Mini John Cooper Works Stopped in stage
SS3. Kris Meeke
Mini WRC Team John Cooper Works Lost wheel
SS5. Federico Villagra
Munchis Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC Stopped in stage
SS7. Evgeny Novikov
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC Off the road
SS7. Henning Solberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC Withdrawn.
SS8. Peter van Merksteijn Sr
Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC Withdrawn
SS9. Daniel Oliveira
Brazil WRT Mini John Cooper Works Stopped in stage
SS10. Kris Meeke
Mini WRC Team John Cooper Works Stopped in stage
SS11/12. Peter van Merksteijn Jr
Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC Engine
* denotes re-started under SupeRally.
all times unofficial