Nancy Knapp Schilke
Ogier holds a slight edge over Citroen teammate Loeb; Sordo has MINI in third
The two "Sebs" for the Citroen team continue to dominate in Germany which is the first tarmac event of the World Rally Championship this season. However, it is the younger Frenchman who took the lead from the seven times champion. Sebastien Ogier has over a one minute lead after winning four of the eight stages today. Loeb won three stages and now holds second. The surprise is third at the end of the second leg. Dani Sordo may not have won a single stage yet but his consistency has paid off as the Spaniard now has moved the MINI into third overall with just one day remaining in the 2011 Rallye Deutschland.
“There’s no way I can be happy when a problem hits my team-mate, but I can’t hide the fact that I’m happy to be in front this evening,” said Sordo about Loeb’s puncture. “What’s just happened is a reminder that a rally is never won until the flag falls. The main thing is that Citroën is still in a good position to score a double and our aim is to finish the job tomorrow.”
I wasn’t pushing and I don’t really know why I punctured.
Leg 2 was not an easy challenge for the most experienced of rally drivers and their navigators. Moving from the narrow public roads to the old military tracks offers a mixture of asphalt and concrete. Where the tanks move across the land during military training, they leave massive pieces of broken concrete which means it is easy for any competitor to end up with a puncture.
While punctures did become a factor for some, including Loeb, who was the leader after yesterday, making a slight error in maneuvering around the kerbstones and concrete chunks can end up far more costly than just a tyre gone down. It is what sets the rally in Germany apart from other events on the calendar.
Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala came out this morning trying to make up ground and took the opening stage seven win just a bit faster on Loeb who kept the overall lead. The French ace kept his hold on the lead until the final stage’s midway point when he ended up with a puncture. “I wasn’t pushing and I don’t really know why I punctured. There was nothing I could do,” he said.
Today, the challengers and their special built rallying machines covered over 150km before they headed back to the oldest city in Germany. Trier will be the setting of the final day which will be an easier day but Ogier cannot breathe easy yet as his teammate Loeb performs magic on tarmac. Unless they both make mistakes, Citroen will leave the Moselle area and return to France knowing that they have won every Rallye Deutschland since 2002.
In their development year, the MINI World Rally Team has been a surprise this weekend as they make their debut on tarmac – the first World Rally event on the harder surface – both Sordo and Kris Meeke have been consistent. On the opening leg, Sordo placed his Cooper Countryman in fourth with Meeke not far behind in fifth. After the hardest and longest leg, Sordo now sits third, 33 seconds ahead of Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen.
“Honestly we didn’t expect to be here in third on our first tarmac rally for the car. I am really happy with the car,” smiled Sordo. “We did some changes to the set-up and today the MINI was quite good and helped me do the good times. We will continue to do the same tomorrow and try to finish on the podium.”
Meeke was not lucky in SS13 with a punctured tyre but then so were those chasing him. However his woes continued when on the final stage his MINI ended up with a broken rim. “We have had a few wee problems, and we picked up another puncture on stage 13,” he said adding, “Then on the second run through Panzerplatte the car was a little bit nervous underbraking, it cut away from me and stopped very gently against a small stone, it broke the rim and we had a massive vibration for the rest of the stage.” Meeke ended up fifth in the overall picture.
Ford’s weekend has gone from bad to really bad and even though both drivers have proven their speed, Latvala crashed after a puncture to his Fiesta. While neither the Finn nor his navigator, Miikka Anttila, were injured, the car needs repair and they hope to run under the SupeRally rule. Yesterday saw Latvala back in 15th and he had clawed his way back to 10th before the accident.
"At the end of a sixth gear straight, I braked for a fourth gear left-right series of bends," he explained. "There was a big cut on the inside and at the end of the cut was a tree stump, which I hadn't noticed. I went deeper into the cut than in the first pass and clipped the stump. I felt the impact and should have slowed immediately because when I braked at the end of the next 100 metre straight, I realised the front right tyre was flat.
“It seems that when something goes wrong for me in this rally, it goes wrong in a big way," Latvala added.
Hirvonen had a better day than his teammate even though he also had a tyre cut and at the end of the day, the Finn was kicking himself but remains hopeful for tomorrow’s challenge: "The first three afternoon stages were good, but the final one wasn't. There were many junctions and I drove too hard. I wasn't patient enough. I also made a couple of small mistakes, but nothing that cost serious time. I stiffened the suspension again at the mid-leg service and had a good feeling this afternoon. Tomorrow's stages suit me, and I'll try really hard to regain third."
Petter Solberg in his privateer Citroen was another customer of the tyre punctures. But the Norwegian had not one but four! Solberg has the experience and a reliable Citroen as well so it is expected he will pressure Meeke and make up the 10 second deficit he has to the MINI driver. After ending sixth today, he said, “The speed has been good today. So I’m good and quite happy. For sure, the four punctures are four too many and we lost a lot of time, but I’m still OK with the day and will continue to push tomorrow.”
The stage is set for the podium spots and now it is only a matter of waiting to find out who will stand on which step. In the meantime, the drivers are resting at the base camp in Trier.