Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb has increased his lead on Rallye de France Alsace this afternoon.

Loeb, who took the lead in the opening test this morning, began the repeat loop with a 7.5 second advantage over Jari-Matti Latvala and he then proceeded to stretch that cushion this afternoon.

Indeed the Frenchman was once again quickest first out of the blocks and in Hohlandsbourg-Firstplan, SS5, he repeated his win from the morning and was 3.4 seconds up on Petter Solberg, who was 'best of the rest'. Latvala in contrast, was only fourth, conceding another 6.4 seconds, after he briefly went off the road and into a ditch.

Latvala struck back in SS6, however, while he did set the pace, Loeb was only 1.4 seconds slower to minimise the damage.

Seb then gained another few seconds in SS7, when he posted his fourth stage win of the event. Solberg was second, 3.1 seconds back, with Latvala third, 3.2 seconds off Loeb.

The pendulum swung the other way in SS8, the Mulhouse street test, with Latvala quickest, 0.3 seconds up on Solberg. Loeb had to settle for fourth, 2.5 seconds off the pace, but he remains out front and will now go into the overnight service in Strasbourg Zenith with a nice 13.1 second lead.

"Things went well today. We made good tyres choices, maintained a strong pace and made no mistakes. It's still very close, but I'm not surprised by that," Loeb said. "I know that Latvala is now very competitive on tarmac and I had to push really hard to stay in front. I'm not exactly taking it easy, but I'm not taking any unnecessary risks either."

"My target was to improve my performance from the last asphalt round in Germany and I did that," Latvala added. "I was a little inconsistent at times because I lacked confidence in corners where mud had been dragged onto the road by cars cutting. Maybe I was trying to drive too fast and attack too much. Tomorrow's stages are narrow and bumpier, but I will try to keep the pressure on."

Behind the battle at the front, Hirvonen continues to hold third and the final podium place, although with Solberg now happier with his car, the Finn has come under massive pressure with 'Hollywood' closing to within just 0.7 seconds.

"Overall, it's not bad, even though I'm losing my voice a little and I'm having a bit of difficulty in speaking!" Hirvonen remarked. "I still lack confidence on the quicker sections. However, I think I have taken another step forward. Now I just need to make the next one! I'm going to try to do just that tomorrow, because Petter Solberg is less than a second behind me. I also need to keep the pressure on Jari-Matti."

"The afternoon was much better," added Solberg. "Once I had the right feeling then my pace was at the same level as Jari-Matti. It's a shame that I lost time in the first two stages. Tomorrow I will keep pushing to try to reach the podium and if I can keep the same rhythm as I had this afternoon then that's achievable."

Dani Sordo meanwhile is still fifth in his Prodrive-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC car. The Spaniard reported brake problems in SS6, but otherwise ran pretty strongly.

"It was not like we expected today," Sordo said. "The tyre choice today was good this morning, maybe we could have taken two soft, but this afternoon we have some problems with the brakes and we lost a bit of time with the others. The brake was going a little long, but I think the mechanics will fix it and then tomorrow we target the podium."

Thierry Neuville has slipped back to sixth, after a somewhat scrappy afternoon in his Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC. The Belgian spun in SS5 and then made another error in SS8, when he damaged the right rear rim.

"I'm pleased to be on the pace," Neuville stated. "I lost too much time for my liking on the Mulhouse stage. But we have learned a lot again today, both in terms of driving and regarding our approach to the set-up of the car."

Behind, Mads Ostberg is next up, 4.9 seconds back, while M-Sport Ford duo Ott Tanak and Evgeny Novikov hold positions eight and nine. Sebastien Chardonnet rounds out the top-ten on his first outing in the WRC with a Citroen DS3 WRC car, with Chris Atkinson and Martin Prokop eleventh and twelfth respectively.

In the support categories, Hayden Paddon moved ahead of Craig Breen and into the lead in the SWRC in SS6. Paddon eventually finished the day 2.2 seconds up on Breen, with P-G Andersson third. As for the WRC Academy, Elfyn Evans continues to dominate, now over a minute up on Jose Suarez.

Rallye de France Alsace now continues on Saturday and it is the longest leg of the event.

Day two includes 192.80 competitive kilometres in total, with SS9, Massif des Grands Crus-Ungersberg 1, due to start at 08.38 hours local time [07.38 hours UK time].

Rallye de France-Alsace: Overall standings after Stage 8 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1 hour 17mins 32.6secs M
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 13.1secs M
3. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 32.6secs M
4. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 33.3secs M
5. Dani Sordo Prodrive MINI John Cooper Works WRC +00mins 48.8secs
6. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 55.4secs M
7. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 00.3secs M
8. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 22.4secs M
9. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 35.9secs M
10. Sebastien Chardonnet FFSA Citroen WRT DS3 WRC +02mins 51.0secs


11. Chris Atkinson WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +03mins 14.4secs
12. Martin Prokop Czech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 25.1secs
13. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +03mins 27.8secs M
14. Sebastien Ogier VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +03mins 44.1secs
15. Andreas Mikkelsen VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +03mins 49.1secs
16. Julien Maurin Ford Fiesta WRC +03mins 59.4secs
17. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 +05mins 16.3secs S
18. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 +05mins 18.5secs S
19. Romain Dumas MINI John Cooper Works WRC +05mins 21.9secs
20. Yvan Muller MINI John Cooper Works WRC +06mins 00.5secs

24. Daniel Oliveira Brazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07mins 48.2secs M
29. Paolo Nobre WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +09mins 34.1secs

SWRC standings after Stage 8 (Top 3):

1. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 1hour 22mins 48.9secs S
2. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 02.2secs S
3. PG Andersson Proton Satria Neo S2000 +01mins 10.2secs S

WRC Academy standings after Stage 8 (Top 3):

1. Elfyn Evans Ford Fiesta R2 1hour 29mins 20.7secs A
2. Jose Suarez Ford Fiesta R2 +01mins 14.1secs A
3. John MacCrone Ford Fiesta R2 +01mins 23.2secs A

Notable retirements:


all times unofficial