Keeping up the pressure!
Xsara WRC crews Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti have both profited from Leg 2 to move up one place. Sébastien is 2nd overall this evening, 22 seconds behind Marcus Grönholm, and has every intention of keeping up the pressure, especially since he in turn is closely tailed by Markko Märtin. Carlos Sainz, 4th, is also in a strong position in terms of Drivers' and Manufacturers' championship points and the Spaniard will be out to defend his place over the six stages (95 km) that make up the menu of final day.
Carlos conceded around forty seconds to the leader during the Saturday's first loop. According to Guy Fréquelin, an obervant spectator as ever on the stages, some of this deficit stems from the fact that the suspension of his Xsara is less efficient than that of his teammate in terms of vertical travel which is greater at the rear following a fall in the effectiveness of his shockabsorbers. On top of that, Carlos had nominated less Michelin GW tyres in his quota for Cyprus and chose the alternative Z pattern, the smaller tread blocks of which tend to move more than those of the GW used by Sébastien. Meanwhile, the Alsace-based driver had trouble with the selection of first gear on the long eighth stage, the problem disappearing after an electronic 'reset' prior to SS9 over which Seb posted another fastest time.
For the second loop, both Xsaras ran Michelin GWs. In 'Platres-Saitta' (SS10), a big knock under the car pushed Sébastien's seat up and excessively tightened his harness belt. The second run through the 30 km 'Foini-Koilinia' test was unfortunately cancelled for safety reasons when the number of spectators was judged too high near the watersplash. That left just 'Galatareia-Pentalia' to tackle, a stage that clearly suits Seb who, like the first time through, recorded the fastest time...
"The day's stages were much more interesting than yesterday's," said Carlos at the evening's service halt. "That didn't make the day any easier for me though. I had kept aside four Michelin GWs for the afternoon's loop but I didn't get to make the most of them when the long stage was cancelled. Tomorrow I intend to keep up my pace with a view to staying ahead of Harri Rovanperä..."
Like his teammate, Sébastien was pleased with the standard of the day's stages but he was also happier with his day than the Spaniard: "The stages weren't so rough and were less tough on the tyres. I pushed hard without taking too many risks. The fight with Markko Märtin is proving interesting. Marcus Grönholm is a bit too far ahead but I am going to drive quickly to keep Markko at bay and we'll see how it goes..."
"It's far from over," was Guy Fréquelin's analysis. "It can still go for us or against us. That said, I am already pleased about one thing: the Xsara has progressed enormously on this event on which testing is not allowed and which we are only doing for the second time. We are up battling with the best of them and that's a fantastic reward for the team which has put in a tremendous job to put us in this position!"