1 September 2007
New Zealand - leg 2: Advantage Loeb - just.
Triple World champion, Sebastien Loeb got the better of Marcus Gronholm on the Rally New Zealand in the final stage on day 2, when he overhauled the Finn for the lead.
The Citroen man began the second leg 13 seconds adrift, but immediately set the marker in the first test of the day, the 17.22 kilometre-run through Port Waikato. The Frenchman completed the stage 3.1 seconds up on Gronholm, who was 'best of the rest' in his Ford.
Marcus responded in the next test though and thanks to a combination of his third stage win of the event - and the fact Loeb was only fifth fastest through Possum, the Finn took the margin back up into double figures, from 9.9 seconds to 14.9 seconds.
The Franklin test, SS8, at 31.58 kilometres though was always going to be the more significant and in it Seb set a blistering time - 11.3 seconds up on Gronholm, who complained that his car was sliding all over the place after opting for the wrong tyres.
Going into the short Mystery Creek super special, ahead of the mid-day service, Gronholm's lead was down to just 3.6 seconds and although he managed to gain a few more tenths there, with another stage win, the gap was just 4 seconds heading into the 30 minute halt.
Following the break for lunch Loeb put in a charge in the afternoon, winning both SS10 and SS11. Furthermore while he was only 0.3 seconds up on Gronholm in Te Akau South, he was 5.4 seconds faster in Te Akau North, something that was enough to push him up into P1, 1.7 seconds ahead.
Both drivers' will now have to really battle on Sunday if they want to come out top and claim the maximum ten points – something that should ensure the final day is a lot more exciting than is sometimes the case.
BP Ford number two driver, Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile remains on course for the final place on the podium, although he is in a very lonely third.
Mikko set top five times in every single stage in a bid to try and stay in touch with the two top, should either have a problem. Despite that though, he is now more than a minute off Loeb and Gronholm, although with his nearest rival 50 seconds further back, providing he doesn't do anything silly on Sunday he is virtually assured of a place on the rostrum.
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