30 March 2007
Loeb grabs P1 in Portugal on final test.
Citroen number one driver, Sebastien Loeb snatched the lead on the Rally de Portugal, the fifth round in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship, on the final test on Friday.
Loeb trailed BP Ford's Marcus Gronholm for much of the opening leg and although he lost touch on the first two stages today, the 19.92 kilometre-run through Tavira 1 and the 24.38 kilometre-run through Serra de Tavira 1, he turned the tables in SS4, when he took his first stage win of the event. That result moved him up to second overall, just 2.6 seconds off Gronholm going into the mid-day service.
On the repeat loop in the afternoon it was again a close run affair, but while Gronholm stretched his cushion in SS5 and took the gap up to 6 seconds, Seb struck back in SS6 and SS7.
Two stage wins in succession saw the margin tumble, first to 1.5 seconds after SS6, before the Citroen driver went in front on the 16.08 kilometre S Bras de Alportel 2. Loeb will now take a 3.1 second lead into the second day on Saturday, the longest leg of the event, with over 150 competitive kilometres to run.
Gronholm for his part, after grabbing the lead in the super special on Thursday night, was right on it in SS2 and SS3, despite hitting a rock in Tavira, which damaged the suspension on his Focus. He was slowed in SS4 though, when the shock absorber finally gave up the ghost.
Despite no problems in the afternoon he was unable to match Loeb in the final two tests and slipped down a place to second.
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile holds third, 22.2 seconds off his BP Ford team-mate. Hirvonen began the day with a stage win, something that took him from sixth overall to second, however he slipped back to third in SS3, a position he has held ever since.
Although the Finn came under some pressure in SS5, when Petter Solberg cut the gap to 1 second, Mikko outpaced him in both SS6 and SS7, to take the margin to 7.5 seconds.
Petter was generally pleased with his day and once again underlined the potential of the new Impreza, although not quite as spectacularly as he did in Mexico. Despite that though he still managed two second quickest times, and he ended the day fourth, 32.8 seconds off the lead.
Daniel Sordo currently completes the top five, the Spanish youngster setting solid times all day long. He was unable to hold onto the top four though and by the end of the first leg was over a minute adrift.
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