23 September 2006
Loeb pulls away in Cyprus after Gronholm spins.
Two time world rally champion, Sebastien Loeb has seized the lead on the Cyprus Rally, the twelfth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, after Marcus Gronholm spun in SS14.
Loeb began the day trailing the Finn by 6.4 seconds and initially the Ford driver seemed to have the edged, stretching his advantage to 10.2 seconds following the first two tests.
Seb though came back in the next two stages to ensure they concluded the morning loop having taken two stage wins each. As such the gap was reduced to 8.5 seconds heading into the mid-day service at Lemesos. The second loop though proved decisive and while Loeb was only 0.6 seconds quicker than Gronholm in SS13, the Finn made a mistake in the next test and while he was still second quickest, he conceded 8.9 seconds, something that crucially handed Loeb the lead. The Kronos Citroen ace then put the hammer down in SS15 and SS16, to end the leg 21.8 seconds in front, giving him a good cushion to take into the final day.
The Frenchman though isn't taking anything for granted and was quick to point out he was around 30 seconds up on the Finn at the last event in Japan going into the final day, only to see that reduced to just 5 seconds at the finish.
Gronholm meanwhile blamed his tyre choice for his inability to stop Loeb pulling away. He opted for the narrower BF Goodrich tyres in the afternoon, while Seb went for the wider spec. Despite the choice though, the BP Ford driver was still comfortably ahead of the rest of the pack in the afternoon, second quickest in all four tests.
Mikko Hirvonen completes the provisional podium, now a minute or so up on OMV Peugeot's Manfred Stohl, who lies fourth. Mikko was third fastest through three of the four tests in the morning and pretty much matched that consistency in the afternoon, adding another two third quickest times to his tally.
Stohl is also comfortable in fourth, the Austrian over 2 minutes up on the next best driver, although the podium is seemingly out of reach, unless one of the three drivers' ahead has problems.
Further-down the order, Toni Gardemeister moved up a place in the penultimate test, when Chris Atkinson went off the road and got stuck in a ditch. The Aussie dropped down the leader-board as a result, although if he does rejoin under the SupeRally on Sunday, he will do so from ninth, only one place off the final drivers' point.
Gardemeister had a positive day in his Astra-run Citroen Xsara WRC and even managed the third best time on both runs through the Foini-Koilinia stage, the longest of the event at 30.33 km. His only blip a minor off in SS12, which cost him around 10 seconds.
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