By David C. Schilke
At the end of the first day Petter Solberg held a commanding 50 second lead over Sebastien Loeb. After seven stages today, including a final night stage, the tables have turned with Loeb holding an advantage over Solberg. Yet the man to keep watch for is Sebastien Ogier, as the Citroen youngster earned a lion's share of stage wins today and is only 2.2 second off his teammate Loeb.
Solberg started off today one step behind, with road sweeping duties forcing him into mistakes. Ogier was quick to pounce, having much better road position in the morning, and took all three stages while closing on the Norwegian. After service, Ogier finally made up enough time while Solberg suffered on stage 10. Heading into the night stage Ogier looked in control of his lead but dust kicked up from cars ahead of him meant visibility was lacking in the dark. In all he lost 17 seconds to Loeb, giving the world champ the lead, and with it, the curse of being first out tomorrow.
“We will see what will happen,” said Loeb to WRC media. “We will continue to push and try and do our best.”
Tomorrow will be an interesting fight as Loeb will try his best to minimize his road penalty. The crafty veteran might know one or two tricks at ruining the line for the next car behind him. Giving chase will be Ogier, and with such a little deficit to make it's almost a guarantee he will have the lead by the morning’s end.
“Despite a problem with the split times system in Ogier’s car, we realized that he wouldn’t have the lead he wanted at the end of this stage,” explained Olivier Quesnel, the Citroên Racing Team Principal. “We gave him a target time to slot in just behind Loeb who decided to push to the maximum.”
In third is Solberg, who has a battle of his own as he also looks to chase down the Citroen works pair. The privateer will have Mikko Hirvonen to contend with, as the best Ford Fiesta running fourth. Only 1.5 second separate the two, one wrong move by Solberg and the podium will be lost.
"We lost a lot of time today cleaning the roads," explained Solberg. "But that was expected. We figured we would be about 22 seconds behind at the end of the day, so with the 20 seconds now we are exactly as we planned. We still have a chance to win this rally, and the plan is to do that tomorrow!"
As customary to Hirvonen’s style this year, the Finn hasn’t been the quickest but his consistency has kept him in touch with the leaders. As the best placed Ford, the team will most likely advise him to give his all to reach the podium. For most of this year Ford has managed a podium spot while the Citroen proves to be faster but a bit more unreliable. All it will take is one mistake or problem for the top three and Ford will keep their podium streak alive.
"Fourth means I have a good road position for tomorrow and I will push like hell," vowed Hirvonen. "My car was perfect all day but I struggled sometimes for pace. Everything must be perfect tomorrow for me to climb the order. There was a lot of hanging dust in the final stage and it was hard to see through it in the dark, but it wasn't as tricky as it could have been."
Henning Solberg holds fifth for Stobart M-Sport Ford while his teammate Matthew Wilson gives chase in sixth. Kimi Raikkonen sits seventh in his privateer Citroen and is on par for more points in his first Acropolis Rally.
Noticeably absent from the top eight is Jari-Matti Latvala. The Ford driver looked strong early in the rally until a string of problems ruined his chances. Today the Fiesta’s turbo went out and the Finn dropped down the order. Even with two stage wins today Latvala can do no better than 11th. There’s still a chance for him to climb into the points tomorrow.
"I visited the Acropolis Museum in Athens before the start on Thursday, but still the rally Gods don't like me," said Latvala. "Top speed on the flat was about 120kph but only 60kph in the uphill sections. My rally went wrong yesterday but I still want to move up the leaderboard because points are possible. I didn't have any speed, but the problem wasn't damaging the car so it was fine to continue. It's frustrating for both me and the team."
Acropolis Rally Leg 2 Results