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Loeb to end year with icing on the cake?

13 November 2004


2004 World Rally champion, Sebastien Loeb looks set to conclude his year in the best possible way, by winning the final round, the Telstra Rally Australia.

The Citroen ace, took the lead this [Saturday] morning, on the very first test, after overnight leader, Marcus Gronholm crashed out.

"I am really disappointed for Marcus. It's very frustrating. I had hoped for a good, long fight, as exciting as my scrap with Petter Solberg last year," said the Frenchman.

Loeb now leads by a commanding 1 minute 20.5 seconds, with six tests left to run tomorrow [Sunday]. Should he win, then it will cap off what has been a fantastic season not only for him, but the whole Citroen squad.

Harri Rovanpera is Loeb's nearest rival in second, some consolation for Peugeot after Gronholm's exit, he had no troubles apart from sliding off the road briefly on the second stage.

"Everything is going very well so far," noted Harri. “We had no problems at all apart from the off on the second stage which maybe cost us about 10 seconds. The car is feeling good and I am quite confident. We are second now and although the gap to the front is quite big there is still a long way to go and anything can happen. The important thing is that the car has been fast and reliable, which is a very good sign for the future."

Ford driver, Francois Duval completes the provisional podium, despite having spent most the day 'sweeping' away the loose gravel.

"Starting the stages third wasn't so easy," he explained. "There was a lot of gravel on the surface so I didn't get a clean line. It was especially tricky in the braking areas. When we used stages for a second time it wasn't such a problem because the gravel had been swept clear during the first pass."

Mikko Hirvonen also spent the day as a 'sweeper', he is the last of the works drivers in fourth, while his team-mate, Petter Solberg, who retired yesterday - re-starting today under the SupeRally system - set the pace in five of the days ten tests, with Loeb taking three stage wins and Rovanpera taking the honours on the Saturday night Super Specials in Perth.

Antony Warmbold remains the best of the privateers in fifth, and on course for what must be surely be one of his best rallies to date, while Dean Herridge heads the Aussie's, sixth overall, while fellow countrymen, Chris Atkinson and Cody Crocker are eighth and tenth respectively.

Alister McRae meanwhile, continues to lead the Production Car WRC category, the Brit seventh overall, and 1min 48.4secs up on nearest rival in the class, Niall McShea. Toshi Arai is third in the class, while current championship leader, Jani Paasonen, had a bad day, dropping from third overall to fifth in the Production category after a puncture in SS10.

In total 32 competitors completed the second leg, eight more retiring, the most significant being Gronholm.

The final day of the season tomorrow [Sunday] will feature some of the championship's most spectacular action. After leaving Perth at 05.30, drivers face two stages east of the city, on roads used today. They then head south-east to the Sotico tree plantation for four more stages, including the longest of the rally. Twice competitors will tackle the roller-coaster Bunnings jumps and watersplash, scene for some of the most dramatic television coverage of the year. They return to Perth for the finish at 16.00 after another 127.83km of competition.


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