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.”