By David C. Schilke
After six more stages ran today Sebastien Loeb is right where he started this morning, in first and with a bout a half a minute gap to his rivals. The Citroen driver looks poised for a fourth win in Italy and a bigger lead in the 2011 World Rally Champions points race. With Loeb far in the lead the battle is now for second place between Mikko Hirvonen, Sebastien Ogier and Petter Solberg.
“It was a hard day’s work!” said Loeb. “I had to push like crazy from start to finish to maintain the gap. But it paid off as we lost ony two seconds to the second-placed driver. I think we’ve proved that we’re the quickest in this rally. We’ve done the most difficult bit, but it’s not over yet. Even if we still have to sweep 57 kms tomorrow, we’ve stacked all the odds in our favour to bag victory!”
I think we’ve proved that we’re the quickest in this rally.
Solberg started the day in second but it was soon Hirvonen’s turn to chase after his rival in the runner-up spot. The Ford driver ended the day with over 6 seconds in front of Ogier and Solberg was about 5 seconds further behind. Hirvonen’s pace was quick today but Loeb as been able to match him stage after stage.
“Sebastien [Loeb] was very fast in the last two stages and I wasn’t really able to take much time out of him,” said Hirvonen to WRC media. “Petter and Ogier are very close and we will all have to go flat-out tomorrow and that will keep the pressure on Sebastien. You never know what will happen.”
After deciding to hold back yesterday, Ogier felt much better in his Citroen DS3 and for a short moment held second in the morning before Hirvonen jumped ahead. The Frenchman will have four stages to chase Hirvonen tomorrow.
“Sébastien drove really well today and I don’t think anybody was capable of taking the fight to him in normal circumstances,” explained Ogier. “Personally, I’m satisfied with our performance taking into account our lack of experience here. Tomorrow, I’m going to try and stay on the podium. We’re only six seconds behind Mikko, but Petter is five seconds behind us. Nothing’s set in stone and we’ll have to fight to the bitter end.”
Solberg is still looking for his first podium of the season and will be eager to push both his rivals into making a mistake tomorrow. Solberg’s pace was off today due to a slow puncture in the morning and a mistake in the afternoon. With lessons learned the Norwegian will hope for a more trouble free day Sunday and hadn’t lost hope yet.
“A good start position for tomorrow,” said Solberg. “It’s been a really tough day and it has been a big attack. Lost 12 seconds on a puncture on stage 11. Also lost time on SS14, which I think is because I have not tested on that kind of surface. The car has worked perfectly all day, and I will get back on the podium tomorrow!”
Mads Ostberg continues in fifth for Stobart M-Sport while sixth-placed Dani Sordo looks on track to earn points for the MINI Team’s first event. Further back Jari-Matti Latvala deserves the hard charger award for earning five stage wins out of six today. The Finn is still trying to make his way up the order after rolling yesterday.
Four stages left, including the weekend’s Power Stage that promises extra points. Loeb looks all but impossible to beat tomorrow so the best fight will come down to second place while Latvala will be the driver to watch on the Power Stage. Stay tuned for the final event report tomorrow.
Rally d'Italia Sardegna Leg 2 results