Citroen's Sebastien Loeb saw his Wales Rally GB lead cut to just 1.1 seconds this afternoon, after Jari-Matti Latvala set the pace in three of the four stages.
However with confirmation having come through that Mikko Hirvonen is definitely out, something that guarantees the Frenchman his eighth WRC title [see separate story - click here
], he will now be free to really go for it on Saturday in a bid to maintain his hold on P1.
“Obviously, I'm much more relaxed now, but we've still got two days racing to go. Even if I lost time this afternoon as I was awaiting confirmation of Mikko's retirement, I'm still leading the rally and I said to myself that it would be good to end the season with a victory,” Loeb said. “If I feel good in tomorrow's stages I'm going to try and score my fourth consecutive win in this rally!”
Hirvonen's exit after SS7, left Jari-Matti Latvala in second and the Finn found the groove this afternoon to slash Loeb's mid-day advantage from 17.7 seconds to just 1.1 heading into the overnight halt: “We are looking for a win now and are feeling good. The car is working well and we have a good pace,” said the Crash.net
Mads Ostberg meanwhile completes the provisional podium at this stage, more than a minute further back in his M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta and just 7.8 seconds up on Petter Solberg in fourth.
“The car has been perfect all day today,” said Ostberg. “Everything is working really well and we have done a good job inside the car too. I just keep on smiling and try to enjoy it. The more dirty and bad it is the better for me. There is a fine line though between having fun and being on the roof in a ditch.”
“It was a difficult day today,” Petter added. “We lacked a lot of traction but it has got better and better. We have what we have so we are pushing for a podium now.”
Behind, Petter's brother Henning is a lonely fifth, over 1.5 minutes off the battle for third and almost a minute up on Ott Tanak in sixth. Tanak is locked in a close fight with F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen and MINI WRT man, Kris Meeke, with less than six seconds separating them.
Matt Wilson and Dennis Kuipers round out the top ten, ahead of Evgeny Novikov,
Ken Block, Haydon Paddon, Armindo Araujo, Kevin Abbring and PWRC class leader, Patrik Flodin in positions 11 through to 16. Flodin had been battling with Jarkko Nikara for the PWRC honours, until the final stage, when the latter crashed out. Flodin now heads the PWRC by over 2.5 minutes.
In terms of retirements, in addition to Hirvonen and Nikara, Friday's stages also claimed Dani Sordo, who went out in SS5 and got stuck in a ditch. It is not yet known if he will be able to rejoin under the SupeRally tomorrow, as Sebastien Ogier did this morning after his premature exit on Thursday in the first stage. Ogier ended the day having climbed up from 73rd to 28th.
The action now continues on Saturday and the second leg includes two loops of three stages, totalling 128 competitive kilometres.
SS12, the 32.14 kilometre-run through Hafren 1, is due to start at 09.24 hours local time.
Wales Rally GB: Overall standings after Stage 11 - Top 10:
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1hour 23mins 18.3secs
2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 01.1secs
3. Mads Ostberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 13.5secs
4. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +01mins 21.3secs
5. Henning Solberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 51.7secs
6. Ott Tanak
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 46.0secs
7. Kimi Raikkonen
ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +03mins 47.0secs
8. Kris Meeke
MINI WRT John Cooper Works +03mins 51.3secs
9. Matthew Wilson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 59.4secs
10. Dennis Kuipers
FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 23.2secs
11. Evgeny Novikov
Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 20.2secs
12. Ken Block
Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07mins 08.0secs
13. Haydon Paddon
Subaru Impreza STi R4 +07mins 39.6secs
14. Armindo Araujo
Motorsport Italia/BAMP MINI John Cooper Works +07mins 46.5secs
15. Kevin Abbring
Skoda Fabia S2000 +07mins 46.7secs
16. Patrik Flodin
Subaru Impreza +08mins 34.6secs
PWRC standings after Stage 11 - Top 3:
1. Patrik Flodin
Subaru Impreza 1hour 31mins 52.9secs
2. Martin Semerad
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +02mins 53.9secs
3. Jason Pritchard
Subaru Impreza +04mins 22.6secs
SS1. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC Hit a wall and ripped off a wheel
SS5. Dani Sordo
MINI WRT John Cooper Works Went off
SS5. Peter van Merksteijn
Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC Went off
SS6. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Went off
SS7. Mikko Hirvonen
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC Went off
*denotes re-started under SupeRally
all times unofficial