Sebastien Loeb heads the pack at the close of day two in Spain and while Jari-Matti Latvala shaved 5.2 seconds off the Frenchman's lead this afternoon, he remains 27.6 seconds ahead.
Loeb began the repeat loop with the second quickest time in El Priorat 2 and with Latvala going quickest, the Frenchman saw his cushion reduced by 3.2 seconds.
Loeb was then fractionally quicker than his Ford rival in SS11 and while Latvala took another 2.2 seconds out of the Frenchman's lead in SS12, the Citroen ace remains pretty much in control and on course for his fifth win of the season. A victory would be a welcome boost for Seb too after his woes in Germany, Australia and France. It would also allow him to re-take the outright lead in the drivers' championship.
“We had a good run,” Loeb said. “The roads were clean in the first loop but a bit dirtier in the afternoon. We didn't take any risks, as we didn't want to lose everything. We had to drive cleanly and not clip the apexes. Second time through I preferred to use the dirtier parts of the road rather than cutting the corners.
“Tomorrow, we'll have to tackle the stages in the same spirit. I'll be especially careful in the first one, as the ground will be very cold. Jari-Matti Latvala is pushing hard, but we're sure that second place will go to Mikko Hirvonen. The only thing we have to do is to make it to the end and stay in front.”
Latvala meanwhile was delighted with his form and reckoned it would have been a 'fantastic fight' had he not lost so much time last night in SS6.
“That was the best day of my career on asphalt,” said the Crash.net
columnist. “My driving on this surface is improving all the time. It's smoother and I used every centimetre of the road. I've never driven such a good car on asphalt as this Fiesta. It's so stable and handled like a racing car. When it feels as good as that I have the confidence to drive as if I was on a race track.
“Sebastien came up to me after the last stage to shake my hand and congratulate me on my time. It was a great feeling to have the seven-time world champion congratulate me for beating him on his favourite surface. Tomorrow I will try to pressurise him. I can't make up the time in normal circumstances but I will push hard and see what happens,” he added.
Mikko Hirvonen completes the provisional podium in the second works Fiesta RS WRC. Hirvonen has continued to struggle though, and now finds himself nearly 2 minutes off P1 and 1 minute 24.2 seconds off P2.