Loeb lines up another win
20 May 2006
Kronos Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb has ended the second leg of the Rally d'Italia Sardegna, the seventh round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, poised to win his fifth event in succession.
The Frenchman took over the lead on SS8, when Marcus Gronholm hit a rock and retired. That put Loeb in a dominant position, over a minute up on his nearest challenger, Mikko Hirvonen, in the second BP Ford Focus.
In the end the 2004 and 2005 world champion managed to win four of the day's six stages to head into the final leg with over 2 minutes in hand. Should he win, he will further extend his advantage at the top of the drivers' championship and assuming everyone finishes where they are now his lead will go up from 21 points to 31.
Hirvonen meanwhile, despite a scare in SS9, when he hit a bank and damaged the rear suspension on his Ford, is in a solid second place, 40 seconds or so up on Daniel Sordo, who took third from Gigi Galli in the final test. The Italian had looked set to be on course - or at least in contention - for another podium in the Pirelli backed Peugeot 307, however he was forced to retire following the final test of the day, when he had engine problems.
As such Xavier Pons moved up to fourth, to give Kronos Citroen a potential 1-3-4 finish, the Spaniard, who is the team's official second driver, is though some way off Sordo, 1min 30secs behind.
Further-down the order, Chris Atkinson is fifth for Subaru, the Aussie though lost quite a bit of time after a mistake in SS8, when he misjudged a jump and landed heavily, the impact closing up the air intake to the engine and reducing power for the remainder of the stage. Although he made repairs prior to the next stage and having opened up the air intake was back on the pace in SS9, it took the Banbury based team some time to fix the car in the mid-day service and as a result he picked up 2 minutes in penalties, after he was late leaving for the second loop.
Mitsubishi privateer, Jussi Valimaki lies sixth, after a solid day, while Kristian Sohlberg is seventh, the former Mitsubishi works driver going well on his second WRC event of the season with the Red Devil Atoyle Kazaz squad.
Of the rest, Petter Solberg is on course to take the final drivers' point after re-starting under the SupeRally format, after he was forced out in SS6 on Friday following a string of punctures. The Subaru World Rally team leader set a number of good stages times during the second day and was quickest through SS11, as he concentrated on testing for the Acropolis Rally in two weeks time.
OMV Peugeot's Manfred Stohl and First Skoda's Francois Duval complete the top ten, neither particularly happy with their cars, while Gareth MacHale is eleventh with Luis-Perez Companc, now the best placed of the Stobart VK trio in twelfth and Red Bull Skoda duo, Andreas Aigner and Harri Rovanpera are 13th and 14th respectively.
Rovanpera, like Petter Solberg, re-started following his problems on Friday, and the Finn was pleased with the changes made to the Fabia WRC, which he felt made it much more competitive.
In total there were four significant 'works' retirements on day two, Gronholm, the most noticeable when he was forced out while leading on SS8 as mentioned previously. The Finn clobbered a boulder in the first run through the 31.20 kilometre Monte Lerno stage - the longest of the event - and then lost oil pressure. He was forced to stop immediately, around two thirds of the way through the stage. Interestingly, Loeb also hit the same rock but got away with it - prior to that the Ford driver had been leading by over 30 seconds. The damage was instant and he will not re-start on Sunday.
Henning Solberg was the next to go on the following test, while lying third overall, when he hit a tree in his OMV Peugeot and rather than risk damaging his engine retired from the leg. Whether or not he will re-start on Sunday has still to be decided by the team.
The other two retirements were Kosti Katajamaki, who went out between SS9 and SS10 and Galli, who had engine problems on the road section back to the final service. The Italian will not re-start.
In the Junior WRC class, Guy Wilks still leads for Suzuki, over 2.5 minutes up on Patrick Sandell in his Swift S1600, while Conrad Rautenbach lies third, with Julien Pressac fourth and Urmo Aava fifth.
The action now concludes on Sunday with six more stages to run, totally around 80 competitive kilometres, however with no opportunity to service, except for the regular 10 minutes before the re-start, the event could yet have a sting in the tail...