Midday wrap: Loeb reigns supreme We're used to seeing Sebastien Loeb at the top of the time sheets, but the recently-crowned seven-time World Champion certainly wasn't expecting it this time, as he ran first on the road over a route that was ...
Midday wrap: Loeb reigns supreme
We're used to seeing Sebastien Loeb at the top of the time sheets, but the recently-crowned seven-time World Champion certainly wasn't expecting it this time, as he ran first on the road over a route that was mostly made up of gravel.
"There was definitely some cleaning, so I wasn't expecting to lead at this point and it's a nice surprise to be in this position," he said after winning two of the first three stages. "But it doesn't change anything. I'm just driving at my normal pace and I'm going to carry on in the same way this afternoon. That's still flat-out, but without taking any stupid risks. The fact that I'm champion doesn't make any difference!"
What probably helped Citroen's superstar was the fog that hung over the first stage in the morning. Fog is always something of a psychological leveller, but this time it also had a physical effect. The moisture in the fog tends to bind loose gravel together, a bit like rain. This makes running first on the road less of a problem, as there is not as much loose gravel to sweep away.
Sebastien Ogier, who started and finished the first loop of stages second, agreed. "The fog does make things quite unpredictable," said the Citroen Junior Team driver. "I've got to take my hat off to Sebastien though. He did a great job this morning. And normally it should be a bit easier for him this afternoon."
Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top three as the crews returned to the Port Aventura service park, meaning that the leading trio ended the first three stages in championship order. "I had a straight-on in the third stage," reported Latvala. "When you have mixed asphalt and gravel stages like we had this morning, the braking is not always easy. You have to keep on adjusting your perceptions."
Petter Solberg complained of a lack of traction on the first stage, which cost him 20 seconds. He fought back brilliantly, winning SS2 to end up fourth overall. "The car was just a little too stiff, so we didn't get the traction," he commented. "It was a disaster on the first stage. There's never a huge difference between a set-up that's perfect and one that costs you time and unfortunately we didn't get it quite right. But for the rest of the day we should be okay."
The expected charge from local man Dani Sordo failed to properly materialise: the Citroen driver is currently sixth but less than two seconds off fourth, such is the ferocity of the battle behind Loeb.
"It's not been easy," said Sordo. "The asphalt parts of the road are extremely dirty because there are so many loose stones from the gravel section on the line. You have to be very careful and I prefer not to take too many risks."
The Junior World Rally Championship, which will be decided this weekend, is currently led by local wild card entry Yeray Lemes in a Renault Clio S1600. The title protagonists, Hans Weijs Jr and Aaron Burkart, are second and third respectively, separated by 25 seconds.