Sébastien Loeb eked out his advantage over Citroën Total World Rally Team team-mate and namesake Sébastien Ogier by the end of the opening day's action on Rallye Deutschland today (Friday) – but his fellow Frenchman is continuing to keep him honest at just 7.4 seconds adrift.
Following a scintillating opening salvo from Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team ace Jari-Matti Latvala on SS1, it has since been Citroën all the way as the Finn – in company with a number of other front-runners – lost out on the rain-hit second stage when he mistakenly fitted hard tyres, enabling Messrs. Loeb and Ogier to speed clear by plumping for the optimal soft-compound.
“It's been a good day for me,” acknowledged the WRC's 'record man', targeting an incredible ninth consecutive victory on the Trier-based event this weekend and having triumphed on half of Friday's six stages. “I've been pushing very, very hard because Ogier has been pushing everywhere. It's not easy to make a difference, but I'm leading this evening and that's the main thing. We have a big gap to the others; I am just fighting with Ogier, so for the manufacturers' championship it's looking very good.”
“For sure, I try to push to my limit – I have to progress on this surface,” added his pursuer, far less experienced on the German asphalt roads but nonetheless briefly snatching the lead after pacing SS2. “I am happy with my day because we're going in the right direction. I know I am young, and I can improve in the future.”
Whilst it was relatively plain sailing for Citroën, it was all drama behind as the nearest non-DS3 languishes almost 80 seconds in arrears, piloted by Latvala's team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, who suffered a frustrating day in his Fiesta, losing time on stage two and then swiping a wall on stage four, damaging his suspension.
Still impressively in-touch with the Finn are factory MINI pairing Dani Sordo in fourth and Kris Meeke in fifth, both enjoying a strong run indeed in their Prodrive-fielded MINI John Cooper Works WRCs. The Ulsterman caught the eye by going third-quickest on SS4, but conceded ground to the Spaniard with a spin triggered by an intermittent power loss on the final stage of the day.
Behind the MINI duo, former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg is chasing hard in his privately-run Citroën DS3, having lost time earlier on through overshooting a junction and finding himself stuck on a bank. Elder brother Henning Solberg overcame early brake issues to slot into seventh behind him in his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta, albeit almost a minute-and-a-half further back.
Kimi Raikkonen sits eighth in his ICE 1 Racing entry after damaging his DS3 on SS5, causing the driver's door to alarmingly keep flapping open, whilst Dennis Kuipers in his FERM Power Tools World Rally Team Fiesta and Armindo Araújo complete the overnight top ten, with the latter breaking a rear suspension arm on stage six in his Motorsport Italia MINI John Cooper Works WRC.
Next up are WRC returnee Peter van Merksteijn Jr in eleventh, Matthew Wilson in twelfth, Super 2000 World Rally Championship leader Ott Tänak in 13th and Latvala all the way down in 14th. Above and beyond his early tyre woes, the Crash.net
columnist similarly lost time through a puncture on SS3, the loss of a cylinder on SS4 and a second right-rear puncture on SS6, leaving the 26-year-old to lament: “I don't know what is happening – we've had all the problems today.”
Ken Block is 17th after hitting a patch of gravel and damaging his Monster World Rally Team Fiesta on stage four, whilst Daniel Oliveira damaged the exhaust on his Brazil World Rally Team MINI and lies a lowly 25th, just ahead of the recovering Mads Østberg, whose podium chances were killed off by suspension damage on SS3. Pierre Campana is 22nd on the first of two starts in a MINI WRC for the Corsican, a fraction ahead of local hero Christian Riedemann, being evaluated by Volkswagen Motorsport for a potential full-time drive in 2013.
Aaron Burkart, meanwhile, slipped from eleventh to 45th on the day's last stage when brake problems on his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta forced him to stop before the end of the run. The German is set to re-start on Saturday under SupeRally regulations.
Rallye Deutschland: Overall standings after Stage 6 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1hr 18mins 21.4secs
2. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 07.4secs
3. Mikko Hirvonen
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 18.4secs
4. Dani Sordo
Mini WRT John Cooper Works +01mins 40.3secs
5. Kris Meeke
Mini WRT John Cooper Works +01mins 57.6secs
6. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +01mins 59.8secs
7. Henning Solberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 22.1secs
8. Kimi Raikkonen
ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +03mins 25.5secs
9. Dennis Kuipers
FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 31.7secs
10. Armindo Araujo
Motorsport Italia Mini John Cooper Works +04mins 22.4secs
11. Peter van Merksteijn
Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +04mins 30.4secs
12. Matthew Wilson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 41.4secs
14. Hans Weijs Jr
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +05mins 44.6secs
15. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +06mins 10.7secs
16. Juho Hanninen
Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 +06mins 16.2secs
17. Ken Block
Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06mins 22.0secs
23. Christian Riedemann
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +07mins 19.2secs
26. Daniel Oliveira
Brazil WRT Mini John Cooper Works +10mins 14.6secs
27. Mads Ostberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +10mins 30.3secs
45. Aaron Burkart
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +14mins 30.2secs
SWRC standings after Stage 6 (Top 3):
1. Ott Tanak
Ford Fiesta S2000 1hr 23mins 29.1secs
2. Juho Hanninen
Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 +1mins 08.5secs
3. Hermann Gassner Jr.
Red Bull Skoda Fabia S2000 +01mins 27.9secs
all times unofficial