Sebastien Loeb has concluded the second leg of the Rallye de Portugal on Saturday with a convincing lead, having won all six tests in his Citroen C4 WRC.
Loeb was the class of the field all day and stamped his authority on proceedings from the off. The Frenchman began the day just 3.1 seconds up on Marcus Gronholm, having snatched the lead from the Finn on the final test on Friday.
Seb opted for soft tyres on the first loop and they proved to be spot on in the slippery and muddy conditions, which were in stark contrast to those of day one, thanks to overnight rain. The Frenchman therefore increased his cushion to 5.1 seconds after winning SS8 and then took it to 11.3 seconds following SS9. The Frenchman then backed that up with another stage win in SS10 to return to the mid-day service area at the Estadio Algarve 15.4 seconds in front.
In the afternoon the triple world champion again got the tyre choice right and with the harder BFGoodrich tyres he pulled further and further ahead on the now pretty dry roads. Indeed while there was nothing much between Loeb and Gronholm in SS11, the margin going up by just 1.7 seconds, the next two tests proved crucial, with Seb taking 14.1 seconds from the Finn in SS12 and another 9.7 seconds in SS13.
As a result Loeb will now go into the final day with a more than comfortable 40.9 second lead: “I had a great day,” said Loeb. “The car is going perfectly and I could push to the maximum all day long.”
Gronholm for his part was left to wonder what might have been and while he stayed in touch this morning and set the second best time in every single stage he lost out big time in the final two tests. The Finn blamed poor tyre choice for his inability to match Seb.
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile remains third in the second BP Ford Focus and while he lost out to Petter Solberg in the first test, the Finn managed to pull away a bit in SS9 and SS10, to end the first loop with a 13 second advantage. Mikko managed to gain some more time in SS11 in the afternoon, however he couldn't beat the Subaru in SS12 and SS13 and as a result, they ended the leg still split by 13 seconds.
Both drivers' though have been unable to hold onto the top two and now trail them by over 1.5 minutes. Petter is 2mins 10secs off the lead in the new 2007 spec Impreza and while the Norwegian was quicker than Hirvonen at times he is still getting to grips with the new Subaru.
Further-down the order, Daniel Sordo and Jari-Matti Latvala are fifth and sixth, although both had a difficult start to the day: Sordo stalled twice in Silves / Ourique 1, while Latvala also had problems and went off the road early on and hit a small tree.