20 August 2004
Loeb comfortable in Germany.
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has taken the overnight lead of Rallye Deutschland, the Frenchman pulling out a 26.5 second lead and looking comfortable enough in the Xsara WRC to claim his third consecutive victory in Germany.
Loeb, who leads the drivers' championship, dominated the day and set fastest times on each of the final five tests.
"It would be difficult to have a better day," he reflected. "However, that does not mean that it was easy. A damp road, then dry at the start, a road made dirty by the first pass through when we went through for the second time. About this matter, I must admit that the indications from the organisation's official gravel crews are useful. However, we are still constantly alert, which will be especially necessary tomorrow in Baumholder."
Team-mate Carlos Sainz is however maintaining the pressure and the Spaniard inched into second position when Francois Duval dropped back after losing use of the Focus' automatic gearshift this afternoon.
The Belgian managed to hold on to third position, despite having to change gear manually and therefore being unable to use the handbrake.
"This afternoon was hard because the hairpins in the vineyards are so tight that you have to use the handbrake to get round them," he explained. "I had to reverse to get round hairpins six times and stalled the car three times. I think I lost about a minute."
Petter Solberg has had a trouble-free run to fourth position, while his Subaru team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen is down in 11th, the Finn lacking confidence in his first tarmac outing.
"There were no dramas today and everything was as I had hoped, except for the tyre choices," said Solberg. "We didn't have the best morning and there were some difficult conditions for everyone. We'd hoped for a little more rain this afternoon and maybe, if we'd chosen a harder tyre compound, we would have been fighting for some top times. But, I'm driving well, the car feels good on the asphalt and I'm pleased with its performance."
After struggling on the wrong tyres this morning, Markko Martin has powered from 13th to fifth, with Gilles Panizzi hot on his heels for Mitsubishi.
"It was very, very slippery in the stages this morning and we decided we will push when we can and play safer when the conditions are worse," commented Panizzi. "We made some small adjustments to the suspension settings at the mid-leg service and the feeling with the car was much better this afternoon and suited the road conditions more. In the last three stages I pushed very hard, close to the limit, and generally if things continue this way we should be in good shape."
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