With an inch perfect drive on a relevantly eventful second leg of Rally Australia, Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets comfortably stayed ahead of their closest rivals and reached overnight parc ferme in ninth place with their Hyundai World Rally...
With an inch perfect drive on a relevantly eventful second leg of Rally Australia, Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets comfortably stayed ahead of their closest rivals and reached overnight parc ferme in ninth place with their Hyundai World Rally Team-mates Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer coming home in 14th.
Just 38 of the original 49 starters were greeted by sunshine as they left Perth this morning for two groups of four speed tests before a double run of the spectacular superspecial at Gloucester Park in the heart of Perth City. The weather stayed dry throughout the day so the roads dried out, were fast and relatively smooth.
Hyundai crew Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets had a great drive, setting top ten stage times on all but one of the day's tests, on occasion only a couple of seconds off the times of Sainz (Citroen) and Makinen (Subaru). More importantly the Belgian pair stayed comfortably ahead of their closest rivals - the Fords of Duval and Hirvonen and Skodas of Gardemeister and Auriol - the nearest of whom is trailing by 40 seconds.
"The stages this morning were clearing ok but if you wanted to take a different line it was very slippy which was difficult," explained the 32-year-old Loix. "The stages this afternoon were much cleaner which made things easier for us but we are probably too far behind Rovanpera and the others in front, unless they hit problems, to be able to work out way further up.
Freddy is upbeat after completing the second leg of the rally - the first time he has seen it in the last three years - and he has managed to set competitive times throughout. He continued: "At least I know that I can drive to stay in front of those behind us. For me the car has been very consistent and reliable on these stages and it's driving very well. To be honest I don't need to change anything this evening - I don't need to change something that is doing the job I need it to do which is staying ahead of Francois (Duval) and the Skodas."
Armin and Manfred's woes continued from yesterday as Schwarz complained of difficult handling. The German crew made changes to the set-up at the start of the day but with results that failed to be fruitful, they changed the suspension to a very stiff high-speed setting which did improve the Accent WRC"'s stability.
Armin said: "On the last group of stages the stiffer suspension settings made it much better so now we are going to go back to a clean sheet of paper using that as a starting point and go with a new set-up on suspension, ride height and differentials to try to get to the bottom of our difficulties."
News from our rivals
The second leg of the event has seen relatively few problems and no leading retirements - quite unusual for Rally Australia. Markko Martin (Ford) stalled at the start of SS11 which cost a few seconds. Didier Auriol had a moment in the opening Beraking East when he went into the bushes flat out in sixth gear and his Skoda rejoined the road remarkably undamaged. Petter Solberg (Subaru), Francois Duval (Ford) and Colin McRae (Citroen) all overshot a junction at some point throughout the day and Mikko Hirvonen (Ford) had his visibility challenged when his windscreen was covered in mud after going through a water splash in the opening stage of the day.
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) and Petter Solberg (Subaru) continued their fight at the head of the field trading fastest stage times, with Loeb having the edge to finish the day only a few seconds ahead of his Norwegian rival. Richard Burns (Peugeot), Markko Martin (Ford) and Colin McRae (Citroen) hold third, fourth and fifth position respectively but over a minute behind the leaders.
The third and final leg takes on the traditional images of jumps and water splashes on the sandy gravel roads of the Sotico pine plantation for four speed tests covering the final 117 competitive kilometres. Crews reach the Perth finish ramp at 16:30. Perth is GMT+8hrs.