5 April 2009
Loeb maintains perfect start to season
The Spaniard had been amongst the leaders on day one and into day two, but a couple of errors on the second leg put Sordo out of touch of the main fight, the youngster subsequently choosing to concentrate on reaching the finish line for a result that strengthens his third position in the overall standings too.
Nonetheless, his day one efforts were enough to avoid a repeat of his battle for the final podium finish with Petter Solberg, the Norwegian struggling a little more with his ageing, but nonetheless reliable, Citroen Xsara on the faster Portuguese stages.
Even so, Solberg's problems were limited to merely getting stuck behind Marcus Gronholm on SS5, while stage times that saw him occasionally get amongst the leaders marks another astounding performance from the former champion in a car that is now touching four years old.
The rally was not without drama though, particularly on the final day after Matthew Wilson and Conrad Rautenbach both crashed out of points' winning spots positions on penultimate stage.
Wilson was heading for a comfortable fifth place finish after shaking off the advances of Henning Solberg on the opening stage of the day when the Stobart Ford developed a misting windscreen problem that cost him around 40 seconds.
However, Wilson surrendered the position on SS17 when he went straight on at the end of a long straight, the young British driver blaming a long brake pedal for the accident. Proceeding to roll, although he got the Focus back onto its wheels, Wilson burned the clutch out in his attempts to get back on the road. Even more galling for Wilson was his retirement came just before he could crawl over the finish line at the end of the stage.
The same stage also cost Rautenbach, who had moved up to eighth position when Evgeny Novikov crashed out of seventh on SS15 as he diced with Mads Ostberg. The Zimbabwean was heading for seventh when he came off the road and rolled, his Citroen subsequently catching fire and causing the stage to be stopped as fire crews reached him. Both he and co-driver Daniel Barritt were unhurt.
A rally of attrition, day two had already seen Gronholm end his hopes of a superb podium finish on his return to the World Rally Championship with a roll on SS5, while Sebastien Ogier also found himself out of contention on the same stage when he damaged his car in an off.
With five leading drivers forced to retire, the top eight points' finishes took on a very different look by the end of the rally, with Solberg claiming a hard-fought fifth having battled back from day one brake issues, while Ostberg was able to celebrate his career best WRC finish in the Subaru Impreza in sixth position.
Despite finishing some 13 minutes off the lead, a steady, but trouble-free, run for Federico Villagra was rewarded with a surprising seventh place finish in the Munchi's Ford, while Khalid Al-Qassimi grabbed the final point in eighth for the factory Ford team having shown occasionally impressive stage times as he fought back from day one electrical woes.
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