Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb has concluded day two of Rally New Zealand in the lead following a good scrap with his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen.
Loeb began the second day with a 4 second advantage and initially he increased that to 8.5 seconds following SS9 and SS10. However Hirvonen closed up on the next test and slashed the Frenchman's lead to just 1.7 seconds.
After the mid-day halt, Loeb struck back, winning the first two stages and stretching the margin back to almost 8 seconds after SS14. Then, while Hirvonen was again quickest in the repeat-run through Girls High School, Loeb only lost 1.5 seconds and as a result he will now take a 6.4 second cushion into the final day.
“We've had a good battle with Mikko today,” said Loeb. “It's been difficult this afternoon, very slippery and I really don't like that Girls High School stage. It's very technical and I lost about eight seconds there this morning. It's exciting to have a battle with Mikko and tomorrow I will have to push to keep him behind.”
Behind, Petter Solberg moved up into third in the first stage today and he has now consolidated that position, although he remains over 90 seconds off the lead.
“We set good stage times throughout the day without any crazy attacking,” Solberg said. “I simply kept a steady pace to stay in touch with those in front, because there was nothing to win and plenty to lose. The roads were more slippery and muddy than we expected this afternoon, and drier than we anticipated this morning.
“We have six good soft tyres left for tomorrow, but it we are to have any chance at all of catching those in front then we need proper rain. We need to be lucky so perhaps I should make a rain dance tonight! We'll look at the situation after the opening stage but we're not going to take the level of risk that we did at the last round in Greece, because a podium is important for Ford.”
M-Sport Ford duo Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tanak are next up in fourth and fifth, the latter losing ten seconds with a spin in SS14.
“We have had a good day, but and I haven't been pushing 100 per cent. I took it a little steadier over the morning loop – which is where Petter passed me – but I am confident that I could have pushed a lot harder in some of those stages,” Novikov commented.