Both Citroen C4 WRCs on the provisional podium
With just four stages to come tomorrow, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena continue to lead the 2007 Rally Mexico with their Citroen C4 WRC, while Dani Sordo and Marc Marti have profited from today's action to join their team-mates on the overnight podium in the second C4 WRC.
With a total competitive distance of 158.38km, the second leg of the 2007 World Championship's fourth round was the longest of the weekend and featured a loop of three stages to be contested twice, plus two attempts at the Leon superspecial to complete the day. In addition to the difficulties inherent in the region's high altitudes and the resulting rarefied air, the day's programme marked a significant change in terrain compared with Friday's stages.
"Today's stages are more technically challenging," commented Sebastien at breakfast before heading off for the morning's loop. "It should be easier to pull out a gap." Backing up his words with action, the three-time World Champion profited from the 30.20km of the day's opening test (Ibarrilla, SS9) to post his third best time since the start. He then took his score to four fastest times on SS10 before controlling from in front on Derramadero (SS11), the last stage of the group. "Everything went well this morning," he reported back at service. "I enjoy these stages where the numerous slippery portions mean your driving has got to be spot on. I was able to push hard, but I wasn't at maximum attack all the time because we already have a reasonable lead over our main rivals. And even though the characteristics of the stages were quite different, my C4 WRC continued to handle very well."
Dani also had a good morning, although his run wasn't entirely trouble-free. "I don't think I drove too badly on SS10 and 11 and I was able to see how much I have come on since last year, especially over the most slippery portions. Unfortunately, I dropped a little time on SS9 when I was unsighted by the dust thrown up by the cars running ahead of us on the road. The stage was very narrow and it would have been easy to make a mistake, so I preferred to lift, even if that meant dropping from 4th to 5th place. But there's still everything to play for..." The Spaniard couldn't have known how right he was...
The a fternoon's run revisited the same three stages and once again the 2005 Junior World Champion failed to crack the enigma of the Ibarrilla stage (SS9/12). But after that he was extremely quick, rivalling with drivers boasting far more experience of this event. Indeed, he was one of the three drivers who spent the afternoon battling fiercely for a footing on the provisional podium. Chris Atkinson was the first of this trio to lose ground as Dani moved into the top three after SS13. Despite another quick time on SS14, he was edged back to 4th spot by just three- tenths of a second but finally profited from the two attempts at the super-special to reclaim 3rd place. "It's great to be on the podium this evening," he enthused. "We didn't make any mistakes and the car went very well. It's not over yet, though. We still have to defend our position over the four stages that remain before the finish."
After inheriting the lead before the start of Friday's SS6, Sebastien and Daniel continued to control maturely from in front this afternoon. Basing their pace on that of 2nd-placed Marcus Gronholm, they added a further two fastest times to their tally to complete the day more than a minute clear. "The gap we have succeeded in pulling out today gives us a good cushion for tomorrow, so long as we don't make any mistakes."
The caution that could be read on Guy Frequelin's face last night had all but disappeared by this evening. "There are several good reasons to be pleased with the way today's leg went," explained the Citroen Sport team boss. "The Citroen C4 WRC was competitive and reliable over a different type of terrain and our choices from the range of BFGoodrich tyres we have here were good. Sebastien has extended his lead and Dani had an excellent day. I don't want to get carried away, though, because so much can still happen over Sunday's 62km of stages."