WRC

Loeb consolidates Cyprus Rally lead

Loeb consolidates Cyprus Rally lead

Sebastian Loeb went from strength to strength today in the Cyprus Rally, the sixth instalment of the 2005 World Rally Championship. Building on a first-leg lead of some two minutes, the Citroen ace stretched it out to a seemingly very...

Sebastian Loeb went from strength to strength today in the Cyprus Rally, the sixth instalment of the 2005 World Rally Championship. Building on a first-leg lead of some two minutes, the Citroen ace stretched it out to a seemingly very comfortable gap of 3 minutes and 35 seconds.

S?bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
"The stages were in a better condition (than yesterday) and I just needed to drive a good pace to keep my concentration," the 2004 champion explained. "Of course, it's nice to see that we have a comfortable lead but it's not really as exciting as when we're in a middle of a fight. We must avoid making any mistakes, ease in the rough sections, pay attention to the car in the aim of reaching the finish. It's my job until tomorrow."

Loeb's modest "good pace" was red-hot from the perspective of the rest of the competitors: the Frenchman set the fastest pace on every stage of the day -- although two were shared, one with Toni Gardemeister and one with Gilles Panizzi -- to give him 15 wins on the 16 stages of the rally so far.

Citroen privateer Manfred Stohl was second after the first day, and maintained his position today,although he dropped some 80 seconds further back from Loeb's lead.

Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
"I had a small loss of efficiency on the rear brakes but nothing serious," the Austrian explained. "Of course I want to keep the second place. But today the conditions are similar to those in Sardinia, and therefore the set-up of the car isn't really ideal."

Third-placed Henning Solberg -- the less-famous brother of world champion Petter -- also lost some time, but was able to make a small impression on Stohl. Still, Sohlberg is 42 seconds behind Stohl and 4:15 off the lead entering tomorrow's final leg.

Even the next-best-placed works driver, Peugeot's Markko Martin, lost about a minute to Loeb today. Now 20 seconds behind Solberg, five more than yesterday, Martin at least is secure in fourth, with Tony Gardemeister two-and-a-half minutes further back.

"I've had no real problems," Martin recounted. "I've just concentrated on keeping the car on the road and avoiding all the dramas that seem to have affected everybody else. I am currently second of the manufacturer entries, and with no chance of taking the lead there is no point in pushing. This rally has been a real trial, and I'm just looking forward to getting to the finish tomorrow."

Gardemeister was a man on the move today, though, climbing with his Ford Focus RS WRC04 from 8th to 5th -- and his teammate, Roman Kresta, moved from 10th to 6th, giving Ford a strong third-and-fourth position in the manufacturer entries. This performance was in spite of Gardemeister losing more than a minute due to a puncture on the final special stage of the day.

"I must have hit something, but I don't know what," the Finn explained. "The mousse came out of the tyre and I had to continue to the finish like that. I've been happy with the car. I tried to drive smoothly and straight to avoid the stones but this is not what rallying is about for me. I'm not pushing too hard because if I try to drive flat out on these rocky roads then there is a chance that something will break. It's the same for everyone."

Neither Petter Solberg (Subaru) nor Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) restarted today's second leg; in each case, the engine damage the former world champions suffered on Friday was too sever to continue the event.

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