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Sardinia - leg 2: Loeb consolidates lead

19 May 2007

Sebastien Loeb continues to lead the Rally d'Italia Sardgena, the seventh round in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship, following the conclusion of the second leg on Saturday.

Loeb grabbed the lead in the final stage on Friday, after Marcus Gronholm had lost time with a damaged shock absorber, and the Frenchman proceeded to build a good cushion this morning on the first loop, doubling his overnight advantage from 22.4 seconds to 41.5 seconds, thanks to three stages win in succession.

Although Seb only won one of the three tests this afternoon, on the repeat runs through, he remains 36.5 seconds in front in his C4, with just the final day to go on Sunday.

Gronholm meanwhile was more or less in touch with the Citroen man this morning until the final test of the loop, when he had to ease up because of a slow puncture. He was unable to switch to the spare tyre as he had lost it in SS8 when the retaining strap fractured and the wheel was knocked out of the car about 4km after the start.

That combined with the shock absorber problem on day one, has put the Finn up against it and although he tried to comeback on the second loop on Saturday he was only able to reduce the gap by 5 seconds.

Marcus' BP Ford team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen is next up in third, 54 seconds further back in the sister Focus RS WRC. The Finn set top three times in four of the days six stages, easing off somewhat in the final two tests of the day, in part due to tyre problems.

Further-down the order, Daniel Sordo was the only person on the move in the top eight. The Spaniard began the day more than 40 seconds behind Henning Solberg but kept chipping away in his Citroen C2 and his persistence finally paid off in SS12, when Henning posted a bad time, something that combined with top five times throughout the day for Dani, gives the 2005 Junior champion a 10 second 'lead'.

After Henning, Subaru's Petter Solberg is sixth. The Norwegian was unable to match the pace of Seb and Gronholm and although he improved somewhat in the afternoon, he was still a lot slower than he would like to be.

Mitsubishi privateer, Toni Gardemeister and OMV Kronos' Manfred Stohl complete the provisional points' scorers in seventh and eighth, while Juho Hanninen is ninth, nearly 4 minutes off Stohl, on his second event with the Lancer WRC05.

Of the rest, Stobart Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala rounds out the top ten, having re-started this morning under the SupeRally. Latvala conceded that it was tough having to run second on the road and sweep away the loose gravel and although his pace suffered accordingly, he ended the day with the third best time.

Chris Atkinson also re-started this morning and he finished proceedings in twelfth in the second Subaru Impreza, 45 seconds behind Federico Villagra, who is making his debut for the Munchi's Ford World Rally Team this weekend. This is Villagra's first outing in a WRC car and he has gradually upped his pace. He ended the day with three 12th quickest times in a row in SS10, SS11 and SS12.

In the Junior Rally Championship category, Urmo Aava lost the lead this morning, when his Suzuki Swift team-mate, Per-Gunnar Andersson put in a charge. Urmo regained P1 on the first test this afternoon though, when P-G had to stop to change a puncture. Aava now leads Andersson by 1 minute 28.5 seconds.

Martin Prokop remains third for Citroen, albeit now over 5 minutes back, while Patrik Sandell, Aaron Burkart and Jaan Molder are locked in a three-way tussle for fourth. At the end of the day they were separated by less than 3 seconds.

A number of drivers' had problems on day two, most noticeably Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson, who went out in SS10 after hitting a rock and damaging the suspension.

Munchi's team leader, Luis-Perez Companc, Ford privateer, Gareth MacHale and Subaru privateer, Mads Ostberg also had problems - but in SS8. It is not yet know if these runners will be able to re-start under the SupeRally on Sunday.

Interestingly though, of the 82 starters today, 22 were competing under the SupeRally having retired on Friday.

The action now resumes Sunday with six more stages to run, although they are all relatively short. 55 competitive kilometres lay in wait, with SS13, S Giovanni getting underway at 07.55 hours local time.


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