After the first leg was largely contested on muddy gravel, Rally de Espana continued today on Catalonia’s fast, wide roads.
Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena grabbed the lead on the second stage of the day before going on to build a substantial lead of close to half a minute over their rivals.
Saturday was also a good day for Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, who climbed to third in the overall standings.
With wet conditions affecting pretty much the entire course, the crews opted to start on soft Michelin Pilot Sport tyres.
However, sensing there was a good chance the roads would dry out, Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen took two hard tyres as spares. Sébastien Loeb went on the attack on El Priorat which, at 46 kilometres, is the rally’s longest stage, whilst leader Mads Østberg went off the road.
By winning the stage, the nine-time World Champion* took over as leader. After repeating the feat on SS9, he made it to the midday service in Salou with a lead just shy of twenty seconds over Jari-Matti Latvala: “I was struggling a bit on SES7.
I didn't feel very confident about the set-up that we had chosen and the tyres weren‘t really getting up to temperature. I got back things back on track after that, but I can’t take it easy. It’s still pretty close!”
Still lying fourth at this stage of the rally, Mikko Hirvonen was also positive about these first few stages on tarmac: “Seb and Jari-Matti were a little bit quicker than me, but it wasn’t too bad.
The car was working well, I just lacked a little bit of confidence in the wettest sections. We’re not very far behind Østberg. I’m going to try and grab third place on the second run.”
As the sun had come out again on the Costa Daurada, the DS3 WRCs switched to hard tyres for the second loop. Picking up where he left off in the morning, Sébastien Loeb claimed a third consecutive stage win on La Mussara.
And in going faster than Latvala on the day’s final two stages, the no.1 DS3 WRC driver increased his lead little by little.
“The roads were dry and not that uneven compared to this morning, so it was fun to drive in conditions like that,” confirmed Seb.
“I drove well and tried to avoid picking up a puncture. With our little lead, we can be optimistic about our chances on the last day.”
As he had planned, Mikko Hirvonen moved up into third place after the El Priorat stage. With Ott Tänak trailing him by around fifteen seconds, the Finn expects to have a fight on his hand on the final day: “It’s good; I’m pleased with my performance today, but I always want more.
I must keep improving to have a chance of fighting for the stage wins. In any case, we’ll have to keep pushing tomorrow…”
“Overall, it has been a positive day for us, as Seb and Mikko have both moved up in the standings,” emphasized Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal.
“Like yesterday, we made the right tyre choices and our crews have produced flawless performances on the stages. We’re in good shape, but the gaps are still pretty small. We’ll have to stay focussed right to the end if we are to finish the season in style!”