17 September 2005
Loeb crushes opposition in Wales.
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb utterly annihilated the competition on the second leg of the Rally GB Saturday.
The Frenchman began the day with a win in SS7 and he then proceeded to win all the other 'proper' tests, which took place in dry and sunny conditions. Following the Cardiff super-special [SS13], in which he was second quickest, he ended the leg 44.7 seconds up on Petter Solberg, who has won the event for the last three years running. After having to settle for second best in 2003 and 2004, Loeb is now poised to win his first Rally GB and his ninth rally of the year.
Solberg had a solid day and was right up there with the rest of the pack, but from being 9.9 seconds off the lead at the end of leg 1 and right in contention, he now looks virtually certain to have to settle for second. Only an error by Loeb - or a mechanical problem will put the Norwegian and Subaru back in the fight.
Marcus Gronholm meanwhile continued to 'charge, charge, charge' in his Peugeot 307 following brake problems in SS2 and SS3 Friday, which have compromised his event. He started the day 40 seconds or so off Mitsubishi team leader, Harri Rovanpera and had cut the gap to just over 10 seconds following SS11. However Rovanpera had gearbox problems in SS12 and could only engage second and fourth gears, hence he lost time, with Gronholm going ahead now a good 20 seconds or so 'up the road'.
Francois Duval also benefited from Harri's woes, to 'overtake' the Mitsubishi driver, and just 0.7 seconds separate them now, setting things up perfectly for a tight battle on Sunday.
Further-down the leaderboard, Markko Martin has moved up into the points in sixth, somewhat more happier with his Peugeot after struggling in leg 1, ahead of Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli and Manfred Stohl, the latter the best of the privately entered cars, in his OMV backed Xsara WRC.
Ford number two driver, Roman Kresta is one place off the points in ninth, but he will need to make up more than 30 seconds Sunday if he is to overhaul Stohl for the final drivers' point, while Mark Higgins rounds out the top ten, the best of the Brits.
Higgins was the only driver other than Loeb to win a test Saturday - even if it was the 1.10 kilometre Cardiff super-special, which was held in front of more 20,000 fans. The super-special took place in the Millennium Stadium and with the sliding roof shut, the noise echoed around the arena. It was the first time in the history of the WRC that a stage has been held indoors.
Colin McRae is eleventh on his return to the WRC after around 18 months out. The Scot had gearbox issues in the morning but other than that he has had a reasonable day. His protégé, Kris Meeke, is just one place behind in twelfth, while Anthony Warmbold, Henning Solberg and Xavier Pons complete the top 15.
The only other 'works' driver still going is McRae's Skoda team-mate, Armin Schwarz in 18th.
Three 'works' drivers have gone out: namely Toni Gardemeister and Subaru duo, Chris Atkinson and Stephane Sarrazin.
Gardemeister failed to start in the lead Ford Focus after his car was found to be 4kg underweight Friday night. The stewards were therefore forced to exclude the Finn and he took no part in Saturday's proceedings.
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