Citroen's Sebastien Loeb looks in control at the end of day two of Rallye de France Alsace and with just one leg to go is poised to clinch his ninth WRC drivers' title in winning style.
Loeb more than doubled his overnight this morning and he maintained his 30-odd second advantage this afternoon, winning two more stages and finishing up post-SS16 29.7 seconds up on Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala.
“It's going pretty well,” Loeb said. “As the conditions stayed dry, I didn't really ease off. We might well have some rain tomorrow and I'd rather start the final leg with a relatively comfortable lead. I can't wait for tomorrow's stages, because they really do run through the area where I grew up.”
Latvala meanwhile was quickest in the other two tests on the repeat loop – albeit sharing the honours with Mikko Hirvonen in SS13 – but while he did take a bit of time out of Loeb in SS13 and SS16, the Frenchman took the time back in SS14 and SS15.
“My speed was good again today, although I'm disappointed I made a mistake this morning,” Latvala reflected. “Tomorrow's stages are short so it will be difficult to attack. But I'm thinking more about preserving second than trying to win, which will be almost impossible unless Loeb makes a mistake. My car is fast enough to win the rally, but it's the driver that has to improve!
“I'm still not confident when there is gravel and dirt on the road from the cuts, but I'm starting to understand how to approach those situations so that's pleasing,” he added.
Hirvonen completes the provisional podium, but his hopes of closing on Latvala were effectively ended after a scare in the penultimate test, SS15.
“I hit a large rock which was in the middle of the road, and I feared that I had picked up a puncture," he explained. "We're still there, without having made any real mistakes since the start of the rally. I am pleased with my performance today. In fact, there was only one stage which wasn't very good for us. Apart from that, we were close to Seb and Jari. Although it's shorter, the final day looks like it might be complicated. If it rains, the roads will be even dirtier and muddier. I will keep pushing without taking any risks that might jeopardise the result that is shaping up for the team.”
Behind, Mads Ostberg, Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville are locked in a good scrap for fourth. Ostberg is currently 4.1 seconds up on Sordo, with Neuville a further 3.9 seconds back in sixth after he incurred a 20-second penalty for being late at the SS11 time control.