By David C. Schilke
- Ford team has rash of problems
- Citroen takes control of Rally Portugal
- Ogier aims for first win of new season
Citroen’s strategy worked beautifully for Sebastien Ogier, putting the Frenchman in a prime spot to win Rally de Portugal tomorrow. With only four stages left Ogier has over a half minute gap to teammate Sebastien Loeb and should sail to his first 2011 World Rally Championship with little pressure.
We have to stay concentrated right till the end.
“We’ve just had a perfect day without making any mistakes in a DS3 WRC that was running like a dream,” said Ogier. “We’ve built up a comfortable lead but the rally isn’t over yet. We’ve still got some one hundred kilometers to cover, and we’ve seen that the race can be turned on its head in a fraction of a second. We have to stay concentrated right till the end, and above all avoid punctures. It’s never easy especially when you’re pushing hard!”
Starting out the day fourth on the road, it only took Ogier the final morning stage to take over the lead from Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala, who lost time being first one to take on the slippery and wet gravel roads. Loeb might have snatched the lead on stage 9 but suffered a set back when he found himself in the dust kicked up by Mikko Hirvonen.
“I think I lost the race in SS9,” lamented Loeb. “You have to face facts; with a gap of forty seconds you can’t win in normal circumstances. We’ll just have to manage the end of the rally to cement this evening’s result and make it a double for Citroën. We’ also have to think about the Power Stage, which can bring us a few precious points.”
The Ford driver suffered a puncture and pushed to get back on the road before Loeb passed, causing his dust to still be in the air when Loeb caught up to the ailing Fiesta. The 2010 champ was not happy with the situation and let Hirvonen know by tapping his rival’s bumper when they pulled into the stage finish. The two drivers later settled their differences, chocking the incident to being part of the rally experience.
Loeb soon settled into third with Hirvonen dropping to fourth. Meanwhile Ogier stretched out his gap over Latvala, who looked poised to continue the fight until tragedy struck the Finn. On the penultimate stage of the day Latvala’s drive shaft failed, leaving the Fiesta driver unable to defend the charge from Loeb for second. A puncture on the next stage would go on to further compound Latvala’s woes, leaving him over 3 minutes behind.
“I was fighting for victory and I'm really disappointed. But I can take a podium and I'm still motivated to do that tomorrow and try to take some bonus points on the Power Stage," commented Latvala.
Ford’s bad luck wasn’t over as Hirvonen also lost a lot of time on the final stage with a suspension failure. Never able to recover from the earlier puncture Hirvonen found himself slipping down the order into fifth and well off the pace.
"A sharp rock came through the sidewall of the tyre," explained Hirvonen about this morning’s setback. "We made a good change and were quickly up to full speed again. But I was unlucky this afternoon when the linkage on the rear suspension broke. I'm unsure why. I didn’t feel anything but perhaps a rock hit the link and caused the breakage. After the puncture I decided to drive at a steady speed, without taking risks so it's disappointing.”
Stobart M-Sport’s driver Matthew Wilson inherited fourth from Hirvonen, and will start tomorrow 5.7 second clear of the Finn. Stobart teammate Henning Solberg sits in sixth while Citroen privateer Kimi Raikkonen holds seventh. The top ten is rounded out by Federico Villagra, Petter Solberg and Munchi’s Dennis Kuipers, respectively. While Solberg is in ninth, credited to yesterday’s unexpected rash of punctures, the Norwegian is still out to turn heads and won three stages today. Tomorrow the privateer will gun for the Power Stage of the event for maximum points.
“Today has been exactly as we planned it yesterday evening,” confirmed Solberg. “I was aiming for points in the championship and I still think we can climb even higher in the classification tomorrow. The car has worked perfectly today, we have the speed and the stage wins. We will continue the good work tomorrow.”
See: Leg 2 Results