Nancy Knapp Schilke, WRC Correspondent
Sebastien Loeb might have a bit of Finnish blood in his French veins with the way he flies his Citroen DS3 along the gravel roads and in the air. Twice he has earned victory at the famous event; the only non-Nordic driver who has accomplished the feat in the FIA World Rally Championship.
The eight times champion started 10th on the road after setting the fastest time in qualifying last evening, which allowed Loeb to make the first selection, and after tonight’s special three stages, he holds the lead over his teammate Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala in his Ford Fiesta RS as the two Finns tied for second; 7.3 seconds adrift of last year’s winner.
“After going fastest in qualifying, I cannot but be pleased to have continued my good form and to lead the rally this evening!”
The Frenchman won SS1 and SS3; while Solberg earned the fastest time in SS2. Loeb said, “I wanted to set off at a strong pace on SS1, because the level of grip was good and I felt very good in the car. I am especially pleased with my time on SS3, because it went perfectly. I pushed hard and didn’t hold back at all. I couldn't have gone any faster! “
Hirvonen was not far off the pace of his teammate. The Finn would really like to take the victory in his home race. He said, “Today’s result is pretty much in line with my plans. Last year, I was over two minutes behind the leader at the end of day one. This time, I’m only seven seconds adrift so I have definitely made progress!”
Like his fellow countryman, Ford’s Finn did not earn a stage win either. Latvala commented: “I was a little too careful in the opening stage, but the second test was fine,” said Latvala. “I thought I drove well in the last stage, but the clock showed that I dropped five seconds. That was frustrating because I don’t understand where the time went. I tried a new suspension set-up so perhaps I need to think if that was the reason.”
Solberg was fourth in his Ford factory team Fiesta, and he said, “I decided to make a small change to the car’s set-up before the final stage, making it slightly lower to try to improve the performance even further. Unfortunately it didn’t work and I lost a few seconds. Because today’s leg was so short, it was the right time to try something like that. If it didn’t work the time loss was always going to be small. Tomorrow I’ll go back to my previous settings and I’ll continue to push hard.”