Total concentration! Throughout an extremely difficult second leg, Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti maintained the positions they were in yesterday. Lying in third and fourth places respectively, the two Xsara WRCs ...
Throughout an extremely difficult second leg, Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti maintained the positions they were in yesterday. Lying in third and fourth places respectively, the two Xsara WRCs are exactly on track for the much-anticipated Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles. To achieve this double success, they must imperatively retain, throughout the 112 kilometres of timed sections which make up the final leg, the total concentration which allowed them to avoid the hazards thrown in front of them today.
For the Citroën team, the day started well, with the visit of the Minister of Youth and Sports to the first service of the day. Jean-Francois Lamour was impressed by Sebastien Loeb's calm demeanour. He asked Guy Frequelin a number of questions on the work being carried out by the mechanics, before getting into the helicopter owned by the boss of the Reds to visit the fifth and sixth stages as well as the RTFZ.
It was certain that the 36 km stage between Vico and the Sarzoggiu Pass (SS5) would be damp, or even muddy, after the heavy rain that fell during the night. However, the Citroën drivers chose dry-weather tyres, although in soft rubber. Carlos Sainz, blocked by the accident involving the car of Cedric Robert, saw his stage interrupted very early on, and was given a notional time. Sebastien, forced to wait at the start line for 25 minutes, had to set off on cold tyres; he made a cautious start to allow his tyres time to regain their optimal working temperature.
As the skies were still threatening, Seb chose intermediate cut tyres for SS6 ... and this time, it did not rain, although hailstones had fallen - really ! -at the Bastelica finish line shortly beforehand. This choice, even if it was different from his competitors', still proved to be the correct one : with a pace only barely slower than that set by those on dry-weather tyres, Seb had safety on his side, just in case...
The weather problems were not yet over. SS7 was supposed to be dry. The two Citroën drivers chose medium tyres. Of course, it rained ! Seb decided to maintain a rapid pace, so that his tyres would remain at the right temperature, and he came out of the tricky stage with a fine third-fastest time. Carlos opted for a more cautious strategy, and also managed to avoid the traps. During the second RTFZ of the day, the sky finally played fair, with a heavy shower dictating an easy choice. Setting off with cut intermediates, Seb only just missed out on the fastest time by just eight tenths of a second - while Carlos increased his gap over Marcus Gronholm.
During the final service of the day, satisfaction and cautiousness were the name of the game in the Citroën camp. "It was not an easy day," Carlos explained. "And tomorrow will not be any easier. But we are ready !" Much in demand, Sebastien refused categorically to count his chickens : "I have to keep my concentration. It will be necessary if tomorrow's leg is like the one we had today. However, I must say that I am not displeased to have managed, to maintain my pace in the difficult sections, pushing just as much as was necessary to keep my tyres working properly. I will try to continue along the same lines tomorrow. But don't talk to me about the title before 2 pm tomorrow !"