Midday wrap: Leader Loeb still shining in the rain The second morning of the Rallye de France may have been wet and miserable, but it certainly didn't rain on Sebastien Loeb's parade. Once again the local hero set the pace on the opening loop...
Midday wrap: Leader Loeb still shining in the rain
The second morning of the Rallye de France may have been wet and miserable, but it certainly didn't rain on Sebastien Loeb's parade.
Once again the local hero set the pace on the opening loop of four stages, winning two of them, cheered on by thousands of drenched but enthusiastic supporters.
Loeb's success this year has meant that he has nearly always been first on the road, and while most of the time this is a definite disadvantage, this morning it worked definitely in his favour. With the drivers behind him cutting the corners on the vineyard stages, the roads soon became filthy: even Dani Sordo running only in second reported the surfaces to be more reminiscent of a skating rink.
Consequently, Loeb was able to stretch his advantage to 42.6s over Sordo by just past the halfway point of the rally, after SS12.
With the name on the winner (and the champion's) trophy this year seemingly pre-ordained, the fight for the podium remains intriguingly open, with Citroen drivers Sordo and Sebastien Ogier swapping seconds while Petter Solberg and Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala keep a watching brief, with every chance of crashing Citroen's house party.
Ogier conceded that Sordo was faster than him, having been beaten by the Spaniard on all four stages this morning, but the battle behind Loeb's 2011 team mate could go either way.
Solberg was past Latvala for fourth on the second stage of the day, but the Finn fought back with a fastest time on SS12. Latvala is now just 7.5 seconds behind Solberg, having hit some logs on SS11.
The Ford driver is nearly two minutes clear of his team mate Mikko Hirvonen, who was still at a loss to explain his curious lack of pace on roads that he cannot quite find a good feeling with. Now that the Ford of Federico Villagra is more than six minutes behind in sixth, Hirvonen is having a somewhat lonely rally.
Kimi Raikkonen went off from seventh place halfway through SS10, losing more than half an hour after a 20kph excursion into a ditch where there were only a handful of spectators.
Another circuit racer, WTCC ace Yvan Muller, hit problems on the following stage - the longest of the rally - after damaging a wheel. The Frenchman managed to nurse the car back to service and his ageing Citroen Xsara should be back to full health in the afternoon.
The battle for Super 2000 honours remained close, after Norway's Eyvind Brynildsen took a lead of less than five seconds over his fellow Skoda driver Patrik Sandell into day two. Brynildsen has now extended his lead to 20 seconds, after Sandell spun twice on SS11 before hitting back with a fastest time on SS12. Jari Ketomaa is third in a Ford Fiesta on his very first asphalt rally
The Junior World Championship classification has also become a close fight, with Citroen C2 Super 1600 driver Thierry Neuville losing his lead to Hans Weijs Jr in a similar car on SS11.
Armindo Araujo still leads the Production Car classification. During this morning's four stages the Mitsubishi driver increased his advantage over Anders Grondal by 40 seconds to 1m38s. Ott Tanak remains third, only 15 seconds adrift of Grondal.