The road to hell... By getting the better of Petter Solberg in the morning loop of stages, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena, and their Citroen Xsara WRC had climbed to second place overall. A sustained attack during the afternoon loop of...
The road to hell...
By getting the better of Petter Solberg in the morning loop of stages, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena, and their Citroen Xsara WRC had climbed to second place overall. A sustained attack during the afternoon loop of stages closed them to within 25 seconds of Marcus Grönholm by the end of SS12. Then came Psatha 2 « special stage 13 » pointed out a superstitious Daniel Elena and the start of an odyssey that will remain in the minds of the Kronos Total Citroen team for many years to come.
«From the start of that loop, and especially in Kineta, the cars and the tyres really went through hell » said Seb and Daniel. « A kilometre and a half after the start of Psatha, we picked up a left-rear puncture which the mousse could not prevent. We took the decision to carry on, and it was the right one as we lost less time than we would have done had we stopped to change the wheel. On the other hand, it proved impossible to put on a new wheel after the stage as the suspension was too badly damaged. We continued on like that for a while before stopping to change the right-rear wheel, which had picked up a puncture as well. The problem was that the spare wheel was already on the limit of its mousse, so it just had to hold on for as long as it could. Finally we arrived at service on time, on only two front wheels and a hub... »
Phase two of the adventure was played out in front of an admiring crowd, as the Kronos mechanics attempted to repair the Xsara in the 45 minutes allowed as well as finishing the bodywork. The work included replacing all the under car protection, the wing liners, the gearbox, rear beam, transmission, exhaust...and so on. Two minutes before the deadline, the car's horn sounded : a signal for Seb to drive away as the crowd warmly applauded the technical team's efforts.
« My heart was in my mouth » admitted Kronos team principal Marc Van Dalen. « For anybody who loves rallies, moments like these are unforgettable. It's in these very difficult circumstances that you see people's true worth. I mean Seb and Daniel, who managed to bring the car back, and all our boys who did such an excellent job. I'm proud of all of them ! »
Just like Seb and Daniel, the other Kronos Racing drivers heaped constant praise on the anti-deflation mousse in each BFGoodrich tyre, allowing them to keep going even when the searing rocks had pummelled the air out of the rubber. Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio, who finish the day eighth, started the final stage of leg two with both rear tyres held up by the mousse. Xevi said : « The second run through the stages was horrible. The surface was totally destroyed. I adapted my pace to this minefield, but I still wonder how we got through it without doing more damage. »
Dani Sordo and Marc Marti were embroiled in a four-way fight with Toni Gardemeister, Manfred Stohl and Henning Solberg. The Spanish duo passed all their rivals thanks to some excellent times over `the road to hell' and they end the leg in fourth. « I don't have much experience, but I can say that this rally is the toughest one on cars and drivers that I have known » commented Dani. « And tomorrow is apparently going to be even worse ! »