WRC

Loeb expands lead on Panzerplatte stages

Sebastien Loeb went from strength to strength today on the "Panzerplatte" stages of Rallye Deutschland, building up his lead on the run through tight tarmac roads in and around German tank training facilities. Starting with an 11.7-second ...

Sebastien Loeb went from strength to strength today on the "Panzerplatte" stages of Rallye Deutschland, building up his lead on the run through tight tarmac roads in and around German tank training facilities.

Starting with an 11.7-second advantage over his Citroen teammate Francois Duval this morning for the second leg of this weekend's World Rally Championship round, the 2004 champion claimed wins in six of seven stages, with Duval being the only other driver to win a single stage, as on Friday. The end result was a 28-second lead over Duval.

"I upped my pace through the cleaner portions," Loeb explained. "I took things more carefully wherever there was gravel on the road. A day like today is obviously less fun than when you've got a good fight on your hands. But knowing how to control from in front is part of a rally driver's job. Given the gaps, there wasn't much else to do."

And if Loeb had a clear edge over Duval, the difference was even bigger to the other competitors. Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm, never a tarmac specialist, lost another 25 seconds to Loeb on the second leg, and now lies 1:48 back of the lead -- and yet two minutes ahead of the next nearest competitor.

"Nothing has changed much since yesterday," Gronholm shrugged after the second leg. "To be honest, it has been a little bit boring. There is no way that I am going to catch either of the Citroens in front and I am quite safe from behind as well. The car has worked well but I have not really been pushing it today. I think we will end up third tomorrow, but we still have six stages to drive so it is far from over yet."

Following Gronholm, in fourth place, is his Peugeot teammate Markko Martin, putting Peugeot on a total of 11 potential manufacturer points. Not a match for Citroen's 18, should the positions hold until tomorrow's finish, but close nevertheless.

Martin was able to take advantage of the misfortunes of Subaru's Petter Solberg and Ford's "youth team" of Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta. In spite of losing another minute to Loeb, and 35 seconds to his teammate, Martin still moved from seventh to fourth -- a boon to Peugeot.

"We made up some places today, but this is where we stop," Martin summed things up. "The only way that we could improve things is to have one or two less Citroens in front but I doubt that is going to happen! The only thing we can do is keep fourth now, so I have to be happy with that."

Of this morning's tight battle grouping of Solberg, Gardemeister, Kresta and Martin, Martin is the only one left in a strong position for the final leg.

Solberg experienced hydraulics problems with his gearbox on SS8, ending his prospects of a top finish. "On the whole, today was average," the veteran Subaru pilot summarized. "We had the gear selection problem this morning that lost us a lot of time and then this afternoon found some small improvements to the setup that will hopefully help for tomorrow. The feeling in the car is now good, and from here we're going to try and get some points - that's the main thing."

Gardemeister's chances blew on SS8 (Panzerplatte 1), as a main relay in his Ford Focus's electrical system failed, stranding him early on the stage. Gardemeister and co-driver Jakke Honkanen were eventually able to bypass the relay, but 21 minutes were lost, and the Finn is now languishing back in 23rd place.

And Panzerplatte wasn't unkind to just Gardemeister; Kresta spun off on the stage, losing nearly a minute. "I was struggling for grip at the front and on a fast left corner I spun and went off the road," he explained. "The car went down a bank and it took quite a long time to get back on the road."

The end result of all that is that Kresta is now in fifth place, 4:55 behind Loeb and 1:11 behind Martin. He's threatened by "Gigi" Galli in the first of the Mitsubishis. Stephane Sarrazin and Danies Sola hold the final points-paying positions, both within twenty seconds -- and within striking distance of Sarrazin.

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Stéphane Sarrazin , Marcus Gronholm , Sébastien Loeb , Toni Gardemeister , Roman Kresta , Markko Martin
Teams Citroën World Rally Team