Markko Martin still has a full day and six special stages to go, but he is now the clear favorite to win Rally Catalunya and follow up his win in the last round of the World Rally Championship, in Corsica a fortnight ago. Markko Martin...
Markko Martin still has a full day and six special stages to go, but he is now the clear favorite to win Rally Catalunya and follow up his win in the last round of the World Rally Championship, in Corsica a fortnight ago.
"I'm not really attacking, just driving safely to keep ahead of those behind us," Martin explained. "I would have adopted a different pace if (Sebastien) Loeb were still in the rally. I've managed to keep the same time gap all day. I wanted to finish the leg with a minimum 35 second gap and I've done that."
And Loeb, last night's overall leader? He won the first stage of the day, the 22-km Les Llosses-Alpens, and stretched his lead over Martin to 3.4 seconds. But the newly-crowned champion damaged his oil sump on a rock near the end of the stage, and ended up having to abandon the race en route to the start of the next stage, SS8.
With Martin's Ford Focus teammate, Francois Duval, having retired on the first day already, the closest challenger, then, was Marcus Gronholm in a Peugeot 307, 42.9 seconds off the pace after SS8, closely followed by Loeb's Citroen teammate, Carlos Sainz.
"We've been trying little adjustments to the car all day and I think we are making some progress now," Gronholm recalled at the day's finish. "Realistically it will be very difficult to catch (Martin) without something dramatic happening, but you never know in rallying. I have to keep the pressure on and maybe he will make a mistake."
Sainz, himself a two-time champion as well, was not able to quite keep up with Gronholm, and finished the day 51 seconds off the lead and 11.4 seconds behind Gronholm, but still comfortably in third place.
Petter Solberg, winner of three of the last four WRC rallies, was having a torrid time of it, though, as the 2003 champion could not work out why his Subaru Impreza would not handle on the Catalunyan mountain roads.
With the reliability and handling issues the works entries have encountered, smaller teams have, in fact, locked down half the points positions. In addition to Sarrazin in fourth, sixth through seventh places are held by Daniel Sola (Mitsubishi Lancer), Gianluigi Galli (Mitsubishi) and Nicolas Vouilloz (privateer Pegeot 206).
Just out of the points are Mikko Hirvonen in the second Subaru, plus Toni Gardemeister and Armin Schwartz in the Skoda Fabias, all about four minutes behind Martin, and 20-30 seconds adrift of Vouilloz in eighth.
Tomorrow's final leg will finish with the Viladrau 2 stage just after lunchtime local time.