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France - day 2: Loeb closes on home glory

11 October 2008

Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb has increased his lead to almost a minute following day two of the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse, the thirteenth round in this year's World Rally Championship.

Loeb started the day with a 30-odd second cushion and having dominated the opening leg, he was again unstoppable in his C4 WRC car and won all three tests this morning.

In the afternoon it was a case of more of the same - and it was only in the final stage that Francois Duval ended his run of unbroken stage times, by setting the pace in the repeat run through the 14.37 kilometre Appriccinia-Coggia 2 test.

With eleven stage wins from twelve though it was all pretty academic and the four-time world champion will now go into the final leg on Sunday with a 52.4 second advantage.

"I tried to slow things down a little bit and to be safe I took two spare wheels for the repeat loop this afternoon," Loeb revealed.

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile remains second and on course to take the runners-up spot, a result that will keep him in contention for the drivers' crown, although the difference between him and Loeb will go up to 14 points, with just the two rounds to go in Japan and Wales.

Mikko and his 'guest' team-mate Francois Duval were pretty evenly matched throughout Saturday's action and while the pendulum seemed to swing in the favour of the former in SS10 and SS11, it went the other way in SS12. As a result only 4.3 seconds splits the two going into the overnight halt.

"This morning I thought that if everything went well, then I could keep ahead of Francois and that's how it turned out," said Hirvonen. "I don't think either of us was driving at 110 per cent this afternoon but nothing is certain so I'll drive hard tomorrow.

"Second would be very important to maintain my challenge for the drivers' championship. I have to accept that I can't beat S├ębastien Loeb here, so I would be happy with second."

"I want Ford to score as many points as possible and Mikko has the advantage over me here," Duval added. "Second would be important for him also in the drivers' championship, so I prefer not to take risks and stay on the road. I expected to be faster than him this morning but he's very quick on asphalt this year. Third would be a good result for me."

Further down the order Jari-Matti Latvala came through to stake his claim for fourth on his second run this season under the Stobart banner. Jari-Matti moved passed Petter in SS9 and increase the gap from 2.6 seconds to 22.4 seconds in the afternoon.

"Everything seemed to go perfect today but we never really did anything differently it all just seemed to click into place," said Latvala. "We even carried two spares for safety on the afternoon loop when most other people had one so the extra weight made no difference to our speed at all. After service I couldn't believe how my times were so good. I have just been trying to drive more precisely like I learnt in Spain last week and it is working well; now we are in a much stronger fourth position."

Chris Atkinson had been in the hunt for P4 post-day one, however, a puncture in SS9 dropped him out of contention. He now lies in a lonely sixth - almost 2 minutes off 'Hollywood' in the sister Impreza WRC2008 and a similar amount up on Citroen privateer Urmo Aava in seventh.

"We were pushing hard this morning and were pretty close to Jari-Matti and Petter, but then we got a puncture on the middle stage of the morning," noted Atkinson. "Now there's 1minute 50s ahead of us and 1minute 40s behind. You've got to keep pushing on roads like these though, but the idea is to get the points for sixth and see if anyone else who's pushing has a problem."

Brice Tirabassi rounds out the provisional points' scorers' in eighth, after Toni Gardemeister had fuel pressure problems in SS10 and lost over 4 minutes. The Finn plummeted down from 8th to 13th, with Matt Wilson ninth and Mads Ostberg tenth.

SS10 was also a bad one for Gardemeister's Suzuki team-mate, Per-Gunnar Andersson after he went off the road and ripped a wheel off. It is not yet known if he will be able to re-start on day 2 under the SupeRally.

P-G was the only big retirement on day 2 and he joins Dani Sordo on the sidelines, at least for now. Sordo went out on Friday after an error in SS3. He did not re-start on Saturday.

Of the rest Khalid Al-Qassimi is just outside the top-ten in eleventh, with Barry Clark 12th, then Gardemeister, Conrad Rautenbach, Andreas Mikkelsen, Gareth Jones and Henning Solberg.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category Martin Prokop heads the class by 29.2 seconds having re-taken P1 this morning.

Pierre Campana has slipped to second, while J-WRC champion elect Sebastien Ogier is third. Ogier has taken a cautious approach to the event after his error in Spain and is concentrating on making sure he gets to the end and secures the Junior crown.

His only threat is Aaron Burkart and the German is fifth, with Alessandro Bettega sandwiched between them in fourth.

"We're still here tonight, which means that it's been a good day," noted Ogier. "The car has been perfect. I didn't accelerate to gain third place - instead it's been Alessandro who has hit problems. I'm only looking at Aaron."

The action now concludes on Sunday and while the final leg is the shortest of the rally, it will offer a stern challenge. After leaving Ajaccio at 07.45 hours, drivers face two identical loops of two long stages overlooking the picturesque Golfe d'Ajaccio, split by a return to the town for service. They face 116.26 kilometres of competition before the finish ceremony in Ajaccio at 14.48 [all times local].


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