Hold firm, SÃ©bastien! "There is still a long way to go and so much can happen between now and the finish," were Guy FrÃ©quelin's words yesterday evening, with the two Xsaras sitting on top of the provisional leaderboard. This evening, with 116...
Hold firm, Sébastien!
"There is still a long way to go and so much can happen between now and the finish," were Guy Fréquelin's words yesterday evening, with the two Xsaras sitting on top of the provisional leaderboard. This evening, with 116 km still to go before the finish, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena's grip on the rally is firmer than ever since the pair now enjoy a lead of nearly two minutes over their closest rivals. Unfortunately however, François Duval and Stéphane Prévot, who figured in an excellent 2nd position, were forced out of the event after an accident in 'Toudon-St. Antonin' (SS6).
The day began well for Citroën with another one-two for Loeb and Duval on SS5 (Col de Braus-Lantosque) which left the former 1m 30s clear of the 3rd-placed car. But then François Duval was caught by surprise near St. Antonin: "I was going quite quickly, but not maximum attack. There was a bumpy braking zone and the car bottomed on the sump guard. I was unable to turn in as I wanted but I tried… The car went sideways and hit a pole on the right-hand side… I am disappointed for the team, but I'm also pleased that Stéphane is OK!" Stéphane Prévot's right leg was hurt in the incident and he was taken by helicopter to Nice Hospital where it was established that all he had was bruising to his thigh…
Guy Fréquelin was obviously very disappointed also: "We mustn't blame François. To begin with, that would be to forget what he has shown in his first outing with us. However talented, a driver must learn to interpret the road in his notes and imagine how his car will react at full song. Seb says he had a bit of a moment at the same place last year… I have total confidence in our new recruit. I know he will deliver very soon …"
Sébastien Loeb, who stopped where his team-mate had gone off, was given a notional time for the stage by the organisers - equal to the fastest time - and was again given the fastest time for the following test following Armin Schwarz's accident. After service in Monaco, crews headed out again for a second run through the same two stages but Seb was forced to drive SS8 (Toudon/St Antonin) at night while the first cars through had contested it in daylight. "I stalled at the start, dropping 3 or 4 seconds on the start line. After that, I pushed a little but then I adapted my pace as a function of that of Marcus Grönholm…"
The World Champion ended the day with a fastest time through SS9 (Pont des Miolans-Les Sausses, 28 km): "I pushed in that one without taking any risks, especially through the trickier portions. It seems I pulled out a gap at the end of the stage, in the narrow portion near Les Sausses which was really very slippery. I am globally pleased with my day, I felt very comfortable with the car and I made three good tyre choices. That said," concludes Seb, "like the team, I share François' disappointment. The team has done a fantastic job and I really want to obtain a good result for them…"