A grand slam run today, which harvested eight fastest stage times from a possible eight, has seen Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC extend their lead in the 2005 Acropolis Rally, while Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti still figure in 3rd...
A grand slam run today, which harvested eight fastest stage times from a possible eight, has seen Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC extend their lead in the 2005 Acropolis Rally, while Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti still figure in 3rd position, more than a minute clear of their closest chaser. With a further 100km of competitive action to come tomorrow, Citroen enjoys an appreciable advantage at the sharp end of tonight's provisional leaderboard...
The fierce fight promised by the handful of seconds that separated Sebastien Loeb and Marcus Gronholm this morning kept the huge crowds that flocked to the stages on the flanks of the impressive Iti and Giona Mountains entertained for much of the day. "I pushed hard in the first two stages of the morning's loop," related Seb at the lunchtime break, "and even harder in the last two which were cleaner. I felt really comfortable during the morning running on the narrower Michelins. When I feel as good as I do today at the wheel of my Xsara, I can do what I want with it. And that's a terrific feeling!" The morning's loop of four stages saw the gap between Seb and his rival increase to 25.7s.
For the second pass, Sebastien switched to the wider Michelin tyres with a view to reducing the likelihood of wear in the hotter temperatures. His scrap with Gronholm resumed but was unfortunately interrupted on SS13 when his opponent hit trouble. "That enabled me to lift a little," said Seb. "But not too much. I wanted to build up a comfortable gap before Sunday's four stages, one of which is run in the opposite direction this year, while the other two are new,. This year's rally is perhaps not so rough, but that means we are pushing harder and the difficulties come at you very quickly..."
Running in the wake of the top-two, Carlos Sainz has been involved in a fight of his own with Toni Gardemeister which is proving every bit as fierce. "The car is set up just how I like it and I'm in good physical shape. Even if it's hot, I'm enjoying myself very much," commented the Spaniard before the second group of stages which saw him lose his front bumper on SS12 before being forced to switch to manual gearshift on SS13/14. On SS14, he also smashed his front-right rim and lost a little ground to Toni Gardemeister but maintained 3rd place when he passed the troubled Gronholm. "My main objective is still to score points for Citroen. If I can do that and finish on the podium too, it will be a bonus..."
Manfred Stohl lost all hope of a top result 3km into SS2, but he was back in form today with a score of two fourth fastest times (SS14/15) and two third bests (SS10/11) to provide further evidence of the potential of the 'customer' Xsaras: "Perfect! I have made a few detail changes to the car and, following advice from Sebastien, I have adjusted the way I drive. The result is very positive!" The driver of the second Kronos Racing-run Xsara, Xavier Pons, has continued to familiarise himself with the car: "As third driver on the road, I have been doing a great deal of 'road sweeping' today, even second time through, and I also picked up three punctures. Even so, it's been a good day. I haven't taken any risks and I am getting to know the Xsara much better already..;"