18 November 2007
Ireland - leg 3: Irish win puts Loeb back on top.
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb re-took the advantage in the battle for the 2007 drivers' title this weekend, when he came through to win the inaugural Rally Ireland, the penultimate round in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship.
Loeb led the event practically throughout in his C4 WRC, not that it was as easy a win as that would suggest. Indeed conditions were pretty treacherous throughout and with the asphalt stages often covered in mud, were extremely slippery.
Seb's chief championship rival, Marcus Gronholm was the biggest casualty and he went out on day 1 in SS4.
Gronholm, who won the Stormont Super Special on Thursday evening, had been running third overall, just 4 seconds off the lead, when he lost control of his Focus RS WRC car under braking for a corner in Lough Gill 1 and crashed heavily into a stone wall.
Although Gronholm and co-driver Timo Rautiainen were taken to Sligo General Hospital by ambulance, they were soon released and given the all-clear.
Loeb was then perfectly placed to take advantage, although he himself had problems early on when he suffered a mechanical problem en-route to the 'first' proper stage.
The Frenchman noticed the issue on the road section to SS2. However despite a defective rear damper, Seb still set the fastest time through the 11.48 kilometre Geevagh 1 test and was then second quickest in SS3 and SS4, to return to the first service of the day just 2.2 seconds off his team-mate, Daniel Sordo, who at that point led.
With his C4 fixed though in service, Loeb bounced back in the middle loop, retaking the lead in second run through Geevagh. Following that the Frenchman extended his margin further in SS6 and although he lost out to Sordo in SS7, he returned to service B with a 6.8 second cushion.
The final loop was again all about Loeb and Sordo, and while Sordo cut the gap to just 3 seconds following SS9, Seb finished the day with a flourish and took the margin back to just over 10 seconds.
On day 2, Seb set the marker from the off and even though conditions were still tough, with rain falling during SS11, SS12 and SS13, the Frenchman was in a class of his own, winning all three to increase his lead five-fold.
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