1 April 2007
Loeb wins 'new' Rally de Portugal [updated].
Sebastien Loeb took the win on the 'new' Rally de Portugal on Sunday, the first time the country has hosted a round of the FIA World Rally Championship since 1991.
Loeb took the lead late on Friday having trailed Marcus Gronholm for much of the opening leg. Indeed initially the Citroen man lost touch with the Finn in SS2 and SS3, before he came back in SS4, taking 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, to take a 3.1 second advantage into the second day.
On Saturday Seb was in a class of his own and he stamped his authority on proceedings from the off. The Frenchman 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.
He 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.
Loeb thus went into the final day with a more than comfortable 40.9 second advantage and just paced himself through the final 80 competitive kilometres. It was his third win of the season, after also triumphing in Mexico and Monte Carlo.
Gronholm meanwhile finished second on the road, after losing time on day two due to poor tyre choices, which meant he was unable to keep up. The turning point came on SS12 and SS13, when he lost more than 20 seconds in total. After that there was no way back.
He later dropped to fourth overall however, as all the 06 spec Ford Focus WRC drivers were handed a 5 minute penalty for a technical infringement - the stewards having discovered that the rear side windows did not comply with the homologation form of the car in terms of thickness. They were half a millimetre out.
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