Two Citroens in front ahead of longest day With 23 stages and 220km of competitive action behind them, there is practically nothing in it between Dani Sordo, Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen! The second leg concluded with Sordo in front, but...
Two Citroens in front ahead of longest day
With 23 stages and 220km of competitive action behind them, there is practically nothing in it between Dani Sordo, Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen! The second leg concluded with Sordo in front, but the Spaniard is just one tenth of a second clear of Loeb and Hirvonen who are exactly level. The third and final day, which is also the longest of the event, promises to be the sort of thriller that no scriptwriter would have dared imagine...
After a short night's rest, Saturday morning saw crews head back out to Kyogle, about 100km southwest of the Kingscliff service area. The day kicked off with a loop of four stages which included two particularly long tests, namely Dayco (SS16, 20.31km) and Bosch (SS17, 18.75km). The conditions for the first of these were made tricky by a heavy pre-dawn shower.
Bosch turned out to be drier, however, as Sebastien Loeb switched to maximum attack mode to collect his first fastest time of the rally. He followed that up with another best time on Armor All (SS18) to close to within 2.2 seconds of Latvala. The four-time World Championship was less in his element on the twistier Urliup stage, but that didn't prevent him from figuring in second place as he checked in at the lunchtime service halt: "Like yesterday, I pushed hard, but this time we've got a couple of fastest time to show for our efforts! We have altered the set-up of my C4 and it really is going well whenever there is plenty of grip."
Dani Sordo was in fifth place at this point, and slightly less enthusiastic than his team-mate: "I still don't feel perfectly comfortable, especially on the twisty stages like Urliup. Even so, we're still up there in the thick of the fight, and just 10 or so seconds down on second place. The second pass should go better for me."
After the half-hour break, crews went out for the afternoon's loop of six stages which included three of those contested earlier in the day, plus the weekend's last two visits to the super-special in the streets of Murwillumbah. Sebastien Loeb continued on his momentum to harvest three further fastest times and edge ahead after SS21. On SS23, however, he chose to lift with a view to handing the 'honour' of being first on the road to his rival: "It's not something I like, but the regulations force us to use this sort of strategy. It's frustrating to spend all day driving flat out only to end up dropping time purposely. At the end of the day, though, I think I'm in a good position going into the longest leg of the rally."
Sebastien then profited from the day's two attempts at the super-special which are not taken into account when establishing the following day's running order to push hard in a bid to close the gap on Hirvonen, to the point that the two title chasers ended Saturday's action exactly level!
The fastest time on SS23 handed the overnight lead to Dani Sordo, just one tenth of a second ahead of Loeb and Hirvonen: "It's an incredible scenario! More than the fact that I'm leading, the most important thing about today was the confidence I felt at the wheel of my C4 WRC. Today's stages were superb and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Tomorrow promises to be a real thriller, both for us and the spectators. I hope I succeed in staying in the fight with Seb and Mikko."