Sebastien Loeb took advantage of his archrival Marcus Gronholm's stumble on the second day of Rally Japan, and moved his Kronos Citroen into the World Rally Championship event's lead with a 25-second margin over Gronholm. "I kept up the speed in...
Sebastien Loeb took advantage of his archrival Marcus Gronholm's stumble on the second day of Rally Japan, and moved his Kronos Citroen into the World Rally Championship event's lead with a 25-second margin over Gronholm.
"I kept up the speed in the morning, to see what would happen," Loeb recounted. "Marcus had some bad luck and we were able to get ahead. Now we have to concentrate and drive safely."
The stage wins were actually relatively even for the day: Loeb, the world championship leader and defending champion, set the fastest time in six of the day's eleven stages, including the two runs through the Obihiro superspecial, while Gronholm won five in his Ford Focus WRC.
However, Gronholm lost the ten-second lead he was holding, and much more, in SS14 (Sipirkakim 1) and SS15 (Menan). The Finn spun off the road, had to reverse to get back on, and stalled the engine, all while valuable seconds were ticking away.
"It was slippery and I made too many mistakes," Gronholm explained. "Firstly I hooked a wheel off the road on a right hand bend in a narrow section and spun. I had to reverse and turn around. Then on the next stage I went off at a slow left corner and had to reverse back onto the stage. I don't understand why I made such mistakes."
Mikko Hirvonen, Gronholm's teammate, still holds down third place, now a minute and 43 seconds behind Loeb, and over a minute behind his teammate.
Chris Atkinson is continuing to be a bright spot for Subaru, and the young Australian moved up to fourth place on Saturday. However, he is over two and half minutes behind Hirvonen, so any further moves will have to depend on the misfortunes of the top three.
Manfred Stohl, driving for the OMV Peugeot team in a 2005-spec Peugeot 307 WRC, lost his fourth spot to Atkinson in the difficult conditions, but is only three seconds behind the Subaru entering the final day.
Daniel Sordo, in the second Kronos entry, Petter Solberg (works Subaru) and Toshihiro Arai (privateer Subaru) hold down the remaining top-eight spots.
More to follow ...