22 October 2011
Loeb maintains lead on Rally de Espana
Sebastien Loeb still top post-SS9, now 32.8 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala, with Mikko Hirvonen a distant third.
Sebastien Loeb remains in the lead on Rally de Espana following Saturday morning's opening loop.
Loeb began the second day with a 30.6 second advantage and he started strong by setting the pace in SS7, 4.3 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala, his closest rival.
The Citroen man was then quickest again in SS8 to stretch his cushion by another 1.1 seconds.
However he was a bit more cautious in SS9, and trailed Latvala in second by 3.2 seconds. Consequently he returned to the mid-day service with a 32.8 second margin ahead of the repeat runs this afternoon.
“Everything went well for us this morning; we had a good run without taking risks,” Loeb said. “During the first pass the road was clean. We made a point of not cutting the corners, and drove as if we were on a race track without using the grass.
“I hope that the others will do the same and not dirty the roads too much for the second passage.”
Latvala meanwhile was happy to be able to hold his own against Loeb and he was especially pleased to top the times in Punta de les Torres 1 in his Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC car.
“That was the best I've ever driven in this rally and winning the last stage was a real confidence boost,” said the Crash.net columnist. “My driving on this surface is improving all the time, but I need to remove the small mistakes. It's smoother now and I used every centimetre of the road. I enjoy driving the Fiesta on this surface. It handles like a racing car and is really competitive.
“If I hadn't made a mistake last night and lost my lead, it could have been a fantastic fight today. I'll keep pushing as hard as I can to try to put pressure on Loeb. But it's quite a task to claw back 30 seconds from a seven-time world champion on his favourite surface,” added the Finn.
Mikko Hirvonen is next up in the sister works Fiesta RS WRC car, albeit now almost a minute adrift of P2 after only setting fourth, sixth and fifth best times in SS7, 8 and 9 respectively, much to his disappointment.
“I'm happy with the feeling of the car, the set-up is excellent and I thought my driving was perfect so I don't understand why I lost time,” Hirvonen lamented. “I'll continue to push as hard as I can and try to maintain the good rhythm that I have and see if I can find where I'm losing time.”
Away from the top three, Dani Sordo now lies fourth in his MINI WRT John Cooper Works WRC car, having moved ahead of Sebastien Ogier, when the Frenchman lost time in SS7 with another rear puncture.
Ogier initially dropped down to sixth, but moved back up to P5 and ahead of the other works MINI of Kris Meeke in SS8.
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