Day 2: An exploit in sight for Citroen, Loeb and Elena
There were lots of smiles in the Citroen Total camp after the long, tough second day of the Rally Finland, round nine of the 2008 World Rally Championship. Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, who have led since Thursday evening's start, profited from today's thrilling clash to consolidate their position at the top of the provisional leaderboard, while Dani Sordo and Marc Marti follow in fourth place. The French squad has just three more stages to cover in its bid to pull off a strong result in terms of the Manufacturers' and Drivers' championship standings, while Seb and Daniel are in a good position to perhaps notch up their first ever win in Finland.
The interminable second leg accounted for practically half the weekend's total competitive distance with a total of 168.25km of against-the-clock action. The other challenge of the day was the need for the French pair to perform roadsweeping duty on eight of the day's 10 stages, since only two were visited twice. Having taken the decision on Friday not to play tactically and to hold on instead to their provisional lead, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were aware that they would spend most of the day sweeping aside a clearer line for those further down the road order. "I'm so accustomed to not being in front here that I preferred to defend our lead. It turned out not to be a bad choice, although it did mean we had to push very, very hard from start to finish," commented Sebastien Loeb at the end of Day 2.
"The roads were damp in many places and that gave good grip," continued the reigning World Champion titre. "It also made it a level playing field and we were able to drive flat out. The drier portions were covered in a top-coating of loose gravel, however, and that was a handicap because it meant we were dropping time while at the same time leaving a clearer line for the others. Overall, though, I don't think we coped too badly with the problem and we have succeeded in extending our lead from 14.4 to 18.2 seconds. To pull out 3.8s over more than 160km of stages, flat out between the trees, hasn't been simple but it's been a fantastic scrap. It's been so fierce that the possibility of winning or scoring a top result that would give our title chances a welcome boost has barely crossed my mind. I've been concentrating on not making any mistakes and keeping the gap as stable as possible. We succeeded, and the speed of our C4 WRC will be one of our trump cards in our bid to finish in front tomorrow, although I still prefer to take things extremely cautiously..."
Dani Sordo and Marc Marti also profited from the potential of their Citroen for much of Saturday's action. They began the day by easing into fourth place after SS15 and then gained a footing on the provisional podium after the following test. "I was glad to be third," admitted Dani. "That's the target Marc and I had set ourselves, but it wasn't easy; it rarely is here in Finland! I profited as much as I could from the amazing competitiveness of our C4 WRC which is handling really nicely. At the same time, there were a few things I saw in the way I drive that I want to change, especially my braking."
The last loop of three stages saw Dani lose a little ground, and the Spaniard fell back to fourth at the very end of the afternoon: "I had every confidence in my car" he explained, "but I didn't want to take too many risks as we drove new stages. I chose to secure fourth place to try to score good points for the Manufacturers' championship. We still have one day to try to jump on the podium."
"It's been another good day for everyone at Citroen Sport," said Olivier Quesnel. "We've got one car in the lead and the other is just a second off the podium. This performance is above all due to the progress we have made with the C4 WRC: the drivers are delighted with its set-up and handling. The drivers should also be congratulated, too, of course. To drive as quick as they have done today without making any mistakes over such tricky terrain is a genuine exploit. Seb and Daniel have a chance of winning tomorrow, while Dani and Marc have the speed to bridge the gap. Tomorrow could be a landmark result, but we have no intention of allowing ourselves to get carried away before the finish."