Citroen boss Yves Matton has instructed Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen to hold position in New Zealand following the conclusion of the second leg.
Loeb and Hirvonen enjoyed a good scrap today for the lead, but while Hirvonen closed to within 1.7 seconds following the first loop, he lost out in the afternoon, finishing the day 6.4 seconds adrift. With Ford's Petter Solberg still a distant third, 1.5 minutes back, Citroen have now opted to enforce team orders in a bid to help guarantee another 1-2.
“I decided to let our drivers battle it out for first place today, because there was a real risk that Petter Solberg might make a comeback,” Matton explained. “He didn't make the most of his tyre choice, however, and the gap settled at around one and half minutes.
“Although the final leg only features 60km of timed stages, we won't get carried away. The weather could change again, and tyre choice might once more become very important. We need to stay in first and second positions and I have therefore asked our drivers to make sure of the one-two finish and to stay like that tomorrow and to look behind them. We need to make sure both cars are at the finish.”
Hirvonen meanwhile has conceded that the fight is now over and that his focus is on remaining second.
“I have not been happy with my pace today,” Mikko commented. “I lost two seconds to Sebastien today [compared to Friday night] so I can't be happy. Otherwise though, it was a really fantastic day and like I said yesterday, these kinds of stages and conditions, it's so enjoyable all the time, so I really enjoyed it.
“I just couldn't be faster than Seb today. In some stages I was a bit faster, but that wasn't consistent. And after the service, I was a little bit asleep and against Sebastien you can't do things like that, so that's it. Luckily we're both here.
“I tried really, really hard and everything went really well and we made no mistakes. The car was working perfectly as well. Maybe it's good [that the fight is over] so that we don't destroy our cars but it was fair play. We have been fighting flat out for two days.
“I've had my chances and in any case, tomorrow, if it's raining, I don't have any soft tyres so I wouldn't be able to fight against Sebastien anyway. For me I'll just try and keep Petter behind [now].”
Loeb added: “For sure [it is a relief that the battle is over], but it was great to be able to fight [with Mikko] today. Citroen let us fight until now and tomorrow the conditions will be very tricky, so we will not be taking too many risks. It was a really good scrap and I managed to be a little bit faster in some of the stages. But once or twice Mikko was a lot faster. So it was a really tough day, it was hard conditions...”