By Nancy Knapp Schilke
- Ogier on top after first day of action
- Rally Jordan event is two days of competition
- Loeb, Latvala and Solberg can yet take the win
After a delay of action in Rally Jordan, the World Rally Championship drivers were more than ready to take on what is now a two day challenge. It was the Citroen "Sebs" who charged into the lead on Friday with Sebastien Ogier holding the edge of 30+ seconds over his DS3 WRC teammate. Sebastien Loeb sits second with an edge of 33.1 seconds over Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala.
We'll have to continue to push as three other drivers are still in with a chance of winning.
"We suspected that all the drivers would adopt the same strategy, but thanks to our fourth place on the road we were able to cope with that," said Ogier. "We decided to push as hard as we dared to pull out the biggest possible gap. Thirty seconds isn't bad but even so it's not all that big a cushion. We'll have to continue to push as three other drivers are still in with a chance of winning."
The first leg of six stages was set for Thursday but the service park infrastructure had not arrived and therefore the FIA allowed the event organizers to change the activities. Thursday ended up as scrutineering and shakedown. Today's route was leg two's schedule, starting on the 7th stage. Loeb took the first stage win of the slippery roads but it was a close finish as expected on what now became the opening day.
Petter Solberg placed his privateer Citroen on top of the next stage just ahead of Ogier and Latvala and Loeb as the seven-time champion kept the overall lead. But Ogier wasted no time and started his drive to steal the overall lead by winning the ninth stage ahead of Solberg, Latvala and Loeb.
Stage 10 saw the Ford Fiesta of Latvala set fastest time but again, the pack was close as the Finn just bested Ogier by a mere 1.2 second. Loeb was even closer to his French teammate. Mikko Hirvonen was fourth in his Ford followed by Solberg. Ogier appeared to be biding his time to start his stretch to open the gap between his Citroen and the those in the hunt.
Latvala repeated the win on the 11th stage but again it was Ogier in second and holding the overall lead with just over six seconds to the Finn. However the other Abu Dhabi Ford Fiesta of Mikko Hirvonen was sliding down, even though in the same top group and Kimi Raikkonen in another privateer Citroen was chasing Hirvonen.
"I'm very happy with my road position for tomorrow," Latvala said. "It will be extremely difficult to win from first in the start order. I wanted to be behind Loeb and I achieved that, so a win is my target. I need to be consistent, enjoy a clean run, and develop the same kind of feeling with the car that I had this afternoon. If I can find all three, then I believe I have a good chance."
It was Ogier who closed out the day with his second stage win for an impressive day. Solberg was second over 18 seconds back and was followed by Loeb, Latvala, Raikkonen, Matthew Wilson, Hirvonen who was sliding backwards.
"We let slip around ten seconds on purpose to encourage our rivals to go quicker and stay in front," said Loeb. "Without taking this gamble, I think I'd probably have finished the day at the front with Ogier with Solberg and Latvala a few seconds behind. In these conditions my chances of a podium finish were virtually nil. We had to try something: maybe I've given too much away, maybe it'll pay off. We'll see!"
As the leader, Ogier will be the sweeper for Saturday's final leg. While he has an edge, he has to contend with cleaning the roads. "We've already come out on top in such a situation in the past, so I don't feel either relaxed or stressed. There'll be a bit less sweeping tomorrow. I feel that we can win this rally," he said.
Loeb sits second and in a position to pounce on his young teammate or to be there to protect Ogier's overall lead: "Before thinking about catching my team-mate, I'll have to make sure those two stay behind," he said of Latvala and Solberg. "By being second out on the road, it seems possible but not certain."
The only Ford that stands a chance to best the Citroen WRT duo is Latvala; however, he has to contend with Solberg as the Norwegian is only 2 second out of taking the podium spot. In fact that top four can take the victory in Jordan tomorrow.
"It's worked very well today," Solberg said. "And I'm happy with the start position for tomorrow. I stalled on the start of stage 11 and lost some time there. I'm going for a big attack tomorrow!"
Hirvonen is over 2:30 minutes and is holding fifth over Raikkonen by 15 minutes. For Hirvonen, it was a power steering problem that cost him the extra time.
Instead of a hold position and hope the one in front makes an error, the drivers will be going all out to take as many points as they can on the final day.
See: Leg 2 Results