LOEB SQUARES UP TO THE END GAME After a controlled and entirely trouble-free day aboard their Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena emerged from the final stage of leg two -- Santa Rosa de Calamuchita/San Agustin (SS18)...
LOEB SQUARES UP TO THE END GAME
After a controlled and entirely trouble-free day aboard their Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena emerged from the final stage of leg two -- Santa Rosa de Calamuchita/San Agustin (SS18) -- in the lead. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti were equally flawless throughout a tricky second leg to maintain sixth. Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio, competing under the super rally regulations, had the satisfaction of winning Ascochinga/La Cumbre (SS13). It was the Spaniard's first ever fastest time on the World Rally Championship.
Today's competitive action, comprising 150 kilometres of stages, was almost as long as yesterday's opening leg. The route was a tricky proposition, taking in the well-known stages of the Calamuchita valley that are simultaneously rapid yet bumpy. Road conditions were made even more difficult by the morning's weather. Heavy rain had fallen in the Punilla valley, which contained the first four stages, and two of them even got underway in thick fog. The Kronos team, ably backed up by BFGoodrich's engineers, had fortunately sent out its three Xsaras on soft tyres -- which proved to be a judicious choice.
Sebastien Loeb started the day with 20 seconds in hand over his nearest rival, Petter Solberg. The reigning World Champion made fast but careful progress through the mud and mist to end up with a lead of nearly a minute after Cabalango/Carlos Paz (SS14), just before midday service. On the rollercoaster ride of the afternoon stages, Seb sensibly maintained his advantage. The Citroen driver currently leads by 43 seconds heading into tomorrow's 41 competitive kilometres. "It wasn't an easy day, what with all the jumps and high-speed water splashes" he said. "I've managed to build up a bit of lead and my aim is to keep it throughout tomorrow's short leg. There's a sting in the tail of this rally though : two very rough and narrow stages, where above all I've got to steer clear of trouble..."
First on the road today was Xevi Pons, disappointed yesterday after the 'off' that forced him to retire from the opening leg. He said : "This morning's stages in the damp were not bad at all. I got my confidence back in La Falda (SS11). In La Cumbre -- which we didn't get the chance to drive yesterday -- I was nonetheless second-fastest. The on the following stage I was quickest. To manage that today was fantastic : nothing could have done more for my confidence. So that was good. The afternoon was more difficult though. The weather stayed dry, which meant that I was sweeping all the loose gravel. This will be the case again tomorrow, but I'm delighted to be driving again in front of such an enthusiastic Argentine public..."
Dani Sordo had already said that Argentina would be a case of back to school again, so the asphalt high-flyer duly became a diligent student of gravel. Dani reported : "Today's conditions were really difficult for somebody like me who is new to gravel, with mud, slippery stages and fog in the morning. But I really liked the fast stages in the afternoon with all those high-speed jumps. I spun on my first run through 'Santa Rosa', but I felt a bit more comfortable on the second run. I've still got a lot to learn though, especially on Mina Clavero and El Condor tomorrow..."