5 October 2012
Loeb seizes lead at home
Sebastien Loeb moves to the fore in France and completes SS4 with a 7.5 second cushion; Jari-Matti Latvala heads the chasing pack, with Mikko Hirvonen third, overnight leader, Thierry Neuville fourth and Dani Sordo fifth...
Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb has taken the lead on Rallye de France this morning.
Loeb trailed overnight leader Thierry Neuville by 1.6 seconds following the short opening Strasbourg super special stage on Thursday, but soon moved to the head of the leaderboard in the first 'proper' test, setting the pace and outpacing his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen by 3.5 seconds.
Seb was then quickest again in SS3, albeit only 0.8 seconds up on Latvala, who moved up to second overall in his Ford, as Hirvonen struggled in the wet sections.
It was Latvala's turn to set the pace in the next stage, but again there was nothing much between him and Loeb, with the latter just 0.1 seconds slower. Loeb now heads into the mid-day remote service zone at Colmar with a 7.5 second advantage.
“For the time being, we're in a good position," Loeb said. "It's not easy to compare the times though because we don't all have the same tyres. I think we'll get a clearer idea of everyone's real pace this afternoon.”
Behind, Latvala is 11.6 seconds up on Hirvonen, while Neuville now lies fourth, just 1.5 seconds off P3, having been unhappy with his tyre selection for SS2.
“I really want to fight for the lead here so it was important to make a strong start and not lose big time this morning,” Latvala said. “Tyre choice wasn't easy. The first stage was surprisingly dry and my soft tyres started to get too hot near the finish. But the second stage was 80 per cent damp and the last test was 50 per cent damp and they worked perfectly. Soft was the right choice.”
“Temperatures are rising now and the sun is out, so I think hard compound will be the option for most drivers this afternoon,” added the 27-year-old.
“The first stage went very well, but I was a lot less comfortable on the next two, which were wet," Hirvonen chipped in. "It really wasn't easy to make the right choice this morning, as you can tell from the fact that we all went for different options. It isn't forecast to rain this afternoon, so the road should dry out and that will make things easier.”
Dani Sordo meanwhile has made a promising start in his Prodrive-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC car and rounds out the top five, ahead of Petter Solberg and Mads Ostberg. Solberg struggled on the opening two tests, but made some changes ahead of SS4 and was back on the pace, posting the third best time.
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