"We definitely have room for improvement, but it is important for us to play it relatively safe and stick to our goal of scoring valuable points for the Manufacturers' Championship. It would obviously also be nice to really push hard here – but I have never won the Manufacturers' Championship with any team, and this potential second title would be a great reward for the entire team.”
Behind, Loeb is fourth on his final outing in the WRC and his first since Argentina some five months ago. The Frenchman seemed to be immediately back on form this morning and won all three tests in his Citroen to build an early 3.7 second cushion. However he slipped back on the second runs, having selected the wrong tyres.
“Quite simply, we made the wrong call,” Loeb admitted. “Obviously, it's not enjoyable to fall back from first to fourth place, but the gaps are still sufficiently small for us to remain positive. Before the start of the rally, the question was would I be able to fight for the win. Well, we're very much in the hunt, and that's the main thing!”
Compatriot Sebastien Ogier is next up and fifth, although after clinching the 2013 WRC Drivers' title last night, his mind – somewhat understandably – seemed to be a bit elsewhere. He finished the day 28.7 seconds off Neuville and 16.5 seconds off Loeb.
“To be honest, I had difficulty making sure I was completely switched on for this morning's stages," Ogier conceded. "On the one hand, I did not really sleep very well, as there was still so much going on in my head after such an amazing day. And I also took it rather cautiously, as I did not under any circumstances want to go flying off the road on my first day as World Champion.
"This afternoon was much better, but unfortunately we did not get the tyre selection quite right. However, that is no excuse and certainly is not intended to detract from the performance of the opposition. Thierry in particular produced a very impressive display. Respect!”
Further back, Evgeny Novikov came in sixth, while Andreas Mikkelsen, Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg hold positions 7 through to 9, split by less than 12 seconds. Martin Prokop rounds out the top ten.
“The afternoon has been OK, and this time we were on the right tyres for the conditions," said Novikov. "I feel like we are driving well and that we are learning and improving our confidence with each new stage. There is still a long way to go in this event, so we will just have to wait and see what tomorrow brings.”
“A difficult day for us. Given today's changing conditions, there were definitely better starting positions than ours," added Mikkelsen. "The day got off to a really good start in the dry, but then it began to rain heavily in the final few kilometres of the day's second stage. I lost twelve seconds on that final sector alone – and there was nothing I could do about it.
"The third special stage alternated between dry and wet, making it difficult for me to judge the grip level, so I erred on the side of caution. When it comes down to it, every kilometre of experience is important for me at my first asphalt rally in the Polo R WRC. The tyre selection was not the best: we were underway on hard tyres when soft would have been better – and then on softs when the harder tyres would have been the better choice. Despite this, I am happy with our performance.”