Nancy Knapp Schilke, WRC Correspondent
Sebastien Loeb can take it easy on the final day of Rallye Deutschland to land yet another FIA World Rally Championship victory this year. The French ace for the Citroen works team is over one minute and 40 seconds ahead of his closest challenger after the demanding route on the second day in Germany.
Loeb took the hard compound tyres before the rain came, but the eight-time WRC champion was able to extend his lead. He said, “I only had rain from around the fifteen kilometre mark and I benefitted from a clean racing line. That’s another reason why it’s good to be leading after the first leg. I nonetheless remained cautious, because there was already quite a bit of aquaplaning.”
The SS8 (second stage of the day) was also a wet one but all the competitors would take a brief stop before the longest stage of weekend, Arena Panzeplatte, in order to change not only the tyres but the compound as well. Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena took three of the six special stages on the second day of action.
“We’ve had another great day! On Baumholder, I was the fastest on both runs, but I didn’t really push. It’s not worth it: if you push too hard at the start, the tyres get worn very quickly and you have to ease off at the end. It’s better to adopt an even pace which means you can stay clear of the worst of the trouble… At the same time, the guys who came after us made mistakes and so the gap widened. We just have to finish the job tomorrow, so everything’s looking good.”
What did help the French team was their main rival from the Ford camp finished the day early on the first pass of the longest stage. Petter Solberg hit a rock and damaged his Ford Fiesta’s rear suspension in the Baumholder military area near Trier.
The second day of the WRC events is usually the most challenging, and today was no exception. In the ninth round of the 2012 season, the drivers and their navigators had to cover three tests on the tarmac, not once but twice for a total of 164.90km. The route would take them along Mosel River consisting of narrow lanes in the vineyards, and then later onto the kerbstone roads of the military base. Not an easy task for even the best of the best.
The third stage of the day was the Arena Panzerplatte (SS9), and five of the top ten fell down the leaderboard on the 46.54km long special stage. “It was my fault,” admitted Solberg. “In a long left corner, the back of the car began to slip and I couldn’t hold the slide. The rear right hit a rock and although we tried to carry on, unfortunately the damage was serious and when the wheel came off we had to stop.”
The Norwegian will be able to use the Rally2 rule on Sunday. “It’s disappointing because my speed was good and I was so careful all weekend not to make any mistakes. I’ll restart tomorrow and hopefully I’ll be in a position to challenge for bonus points on the final Power Stage,” Solberg said.
Inheriting the second overall position from his Ford teammate was Jari-Matti Latvala. He would need a miracle to top Loeb on tomorrow’s short route. The Finn has a cushion of over one minute to Mikko Hirvonen in the second Citroen DS3, which means that Latvala needs to bring home his Fiesta for the Ford factory team.
“I liked both Panzerplatte stages. I enjoyed the fight for fastest time but I’m disappointed not to have been quickest on at least one of them. I missed out by 0.8sec in the first pass and 0.7sec in the second pass after more than 46km! Having dropped to fifth this morning, I’m happy to be in second. The car was fast enough to allow me to fight at the front, but I lacked consistency at times,” said Latvala.
Hirvonen does not have the same cushion over the fourth place M-Sport Ford driver Mads Østberg, but if the Finn remains consistent, he should easily earn a podium finish. “Most of all, I’m pleased to have improved my driving on tarmac. I was a bit lucky, but you also need to be consistent if you want to get a good result. My aim will be to hold onto third position tomorrow.” Hirvonen said.
Østberg can taste the podium, and he commented: “From our side I think we still had more speed and it worked really well for us. I am very pleased with the day and the result is a lot better than we had expected. We still can improve, but today has been a good step in the right direction.”
Returning to a full ride for the rest of the season, Chris Atkinson placed his MINI fifth for the Portugal team while Sebastien Ogier ended today sixth for the Volkswagen Skoda entry of a Fabia S2000.
Atkinson’s team seems to be pleased with the Australian’s performance: 'We've gone through the most difficult part of the rally in my opinion - of course tomorrow we still have three stages and we have to stay focused but I'm very happy with what we achieved so far. I'm so proud that we're lying in fifth at the end of this big day and tomorrow I'll do everything I can to make sure we get to the finish,’ said Maxi the Mini driver.
The heartbreak of the day happened to M-Sport’s Ott Tänak who earned two stage wins (SS10 and 11) in his Ford Fiesta. It was one of seemingly perfect drives. But on the final special stage of the day, the Estonian hit one of the giant stones known in the region as ‘Hinkelsteins’. “We touched one of the ‘Hinkelsteins’ on the last stage [SS12] and broke the wishbone on the car and couldn’t carry on.
“That is it really and obviously I am very disappointed because we were on target for a good result and we lost the position we were fighting for,” said Tänak. “The team will get the car fixed tonight, so tomorrow we will just carry on and try and show the same pace we did today to see if we can set some more good stage times.”
Sunday’s final leg will consist of two passes of the stage known as Dhrontal (30.76km). The final stage on the streets of Trier will be the Power Stage of 4.37km for the bonus points.