Monte - day 2: Loeb lays down the gauntlet
25 January 2008
Multiple world champion Sebastien Loeb has put himself in a commanding position following the second day of the Rallye Monte Carlo.
Loeb was just 12.7 seconds up on his team-mate Daniel Sordo this morning, before the action commenced with the 29.52 kilometre-run through St Pierreville 1, the longest test of the event. After there were patchy sections of ice and snow on the two night stages on Thursday, conditions were a lot less tricky today, not that it influenced who was quickest.
Indeed Seb was fastest straight out of the blocks, 8.3 seconds up on Sordo in SS3 and while Dani fought back in SS4 and was 2.7 seconds quicker, after that it all went one way with the Frenchman again fastest in SS5.
Loeb consequently returned to the mid-day service at Valence having almost doubled his overnight lead to 23.5 seconds.
The Frenchman then stretched that cushion further this afternoon completing a clean sweep on the repeat loop. Furthermore with Sordo 'only' fourth fastest in SS6 and SS7 and fifth quickest in SS8 due to a broken front differential, Loeb completed day 2 with a 56.6 second lead and well on course to take a record fifth Monte win.
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile is still third but he has dropped further and further back, now 1 minute 22.8 seconds off P1. Although the Finn closed the gap a bit to Daniel Sordo this afternoon - setting two second quickest times in Burzet 2 and St Martial 2 - he remains more than 25 seconds adrift in his Focus.
Subaru's Chris Atkinson and Stobart Ford 'guest' driver, Francois Duval complete the top five, with the former having now eked ahead a bit, the gap having gone up from around 7 seconds at lunchtime to 14 seconds post-SS8.
Petter Solberg had been in contention for P4 this morning, but he struggled this afternoon - in part due to an engine problem - and now lies almost 30 seconds off Duval and quite possibly too far back now to challenge unless Chris or Duval have difficulties.
Gigi Galli and Jean-Marie Cuoq round out the provisional points scorers at this stage, the latter gaining a place in SS3, when Toni Gardemeister was more than a minute off the pace. Gardemeister lost further ground in the new Suzuki SX4 WRC in SS4 and SS5 and complained of engine problems. He dropped to 13th overall as a result and continued to lose ground on the repeat loop, ending the leg in 14th and more than three minutes off eighth.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Henning Solberg now complete the top ten. Jari spent the day re-building his confidence after hitting a rock last night in SS1 and suffering a puncture, which cost him around 3-4 minutes.
He was sixth quickest in SS3, seventh in SS4, and eighth in SS5 to haul himself up to 15th. In the afternoon he continued to make progress and was sixth again in St Pierreville before setting two seventh best efforts in SS7 and SS8. He finally finished the day 1.5 minutes off the final drivers' point – but crucially on course for the final manufacturers' point, which will be some solace for BP Ford.
Of the rest Per-Gunnar Andersson and Matthew Wilson ended the day in 11th and 12th, with Frederic Romeyer next up, followed by Gardemeister and Ales Broccoli, who heads the A7 runners in his Renault Clio.
Olivier Burri leads the race for the Group N honours, 16th overall, nearly a minute up on Patrick Artru's Lancer, his closest rival, who is 18th.
In terms of retirees there was only one major casualty - namely BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT 'third' driver, Khalid Al-Qassimi, who went off in SS6. It is not yet known if he will be able to re-start under the SupeRally format.
The action now resumes on Saturday at 07.31 hours local time. Two identical loops of three stages lay in wait, totalling around 133 competitive kilometres - the longest day of the event.