13 March 2009
Cyprus – day 1: Loeb leads, Citroen shine
Sebastien Loeb will take a lead of more than 40 seconds in the second day of Rally Cyprus after Citroen dominated the opening tarmac leg of the event.
Loeb, who has won both rounds of the World Rally Championship held so far this year, took victory on five stages at the wheel of his newly-liveried C4 WRC, while the spoils on the final stage of the day went the way of team-mate Dani Sordo, who holds second place overnight. Mikko Hirvonen leads the Ford challenge in third, but has work to do on Saturday's opening gravel leg from just over a minute behind the leader.
Eager to build an advantage out front in the knowledge that he would need to 'sweep the road' if leading after the first day, Loeb quickly set about establishing his advantage out front and signalled his intentions on the first run through Panagia, where he went more than 13 seconds quicker than Sordo.
Indeed, his decision to use part-worn tyres that had been fitted to his C4 during Thursday's shakedown proved to be a wise move as he elected not to take fresh tyres after the first stage and was able to extend his lead over the course of the morning.
Into the afternoon, Loeb continued to pull away and only failed to take victory on the second run through Gerakies, where Sordo was a matter of seconds ahead. However, the second quickest time for Loeb meant he still took time out of Hirvonen.
Sordo provided the perfect back-up for Loeb over the course of the day and was second quickest through the opening three stages and third in the remaining two before he set the pace on SS6, which was affected by rain showers that started as the crews made their way through SS5.
The Spaniard heads into day two just under 20 seconds clear of Hirvonen, who endured a difficult day at the wheel of his Focus WRC.
Having admitted at the mid-day service that the situation during the first three stages had been 'much, much worse than we thought it would be', Hirvonen was able to minimise his losses during the afternoon, with the repeat run through the three tests seeing him lose roughly half the time he had lost to Loeb during the morning. The Finn will now hope to make inroads into the gap to the Citroen's ahead during the five stages on Saturday and make the most of the fact that the stages should be slightly clearer than for Loeb and Sordo ahead.
Jari-Matti Latvala, like Hirvonen, enjoyed a better afternoon than he did morning to end the day in fourth place and just eight seconds behind his team-mate in the sister Focus. Petter Solberg lies fifth in his Citroen Xsara but is more than a minute behind Latvala, although he saw his advantage to sixth-placed Sebastien Ogier open up to more than half a minute after the Frenchman suffered a stall and a spin in SS4 at the wheel of his Citroen Junior Team C4. The pair had battled for position during the morning before Ogier's error, which means he will start day two in an interesting battle team-mate Evgeny Novikov, who is just under 13 seconds behind in seventh place after some encouraging stage times over the course of the day.
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