SÃ©bastien Loeb: "I gave it everything I could" With just a few kilometres remaining before the end of the day's final stage (Himos), SÃ©bastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their CitroÃ«n were in a strong position, just 30 seconds behind Marcus ...
Sébastien Loeb: "I gave it everything I could"
With just a few kilometres remaining before the end of the day's final stage (Himos), Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroën were in a strong position, just 30 seconds behind Marcus Grönholm. But at that moment, a puncture cost them 37s and dropped them more than a minute adrift of the leader. They continue to hold 2nd place however, while François Duval and Sven Smeets have stuck to their game plan and continue to run in 8th position.
With the sun back out to the delight of the countless spectators, the scrap between the reigning World Champion Sébastien Loeb and the local hero Marcus Grönholm, four-times winner of his home event, re-started first thing this morning. And the Citroën team chose to attack: "We decided to run Seb's Xsara on a version of the Michelin Z BTO that we hadn't finished testing to our usual standards," explained Guy Fréquelin. "The closeness of the fight made it worth taking the risk..." Running on these tyres, Seb was fastest in Vaheri (SS10) and closed to within 2.3s of the leader. "The gamble paid off," relates Sébastien. "The traction and braking were excellent. But these tyres were not so effective in the two Ouninpohja stages. I didn't drive as tidily and I was less incisive. That said, even if I had been on the same type of tyre as yesterday, I think Marcus would have been quicker over those two."
After switching to a more 'classic' tyre choice for the second loop, Sébastien was able to verify the Finn's speed for himself. Pushing particularly hard, as close as he dared to the risk zone, the Citroën driver still dropped the odd second here and there. For the final loop of the day, which included the ultra long Moksi-Leustu test (40.96 km), the Citroën team chose to play another card by reverting to the initial 'maximum performance' set-up which had been replaced by a more 'comfortable' package after the nasty jolt suffered by the crew in SS5 on Day 1. Running on the hard, 9-compound Z BTO tyre, Seb and Daniel threw everything into the battle and kept the pressure on until around the 30-kilometre mark: "After that, I lifted a little," conceded Seb. "If I had continued at maximum attack, I would at best have been as fast as Marcus, but I wouldn't have taken any time off him..." Even so, the ferocity of the fight saw the existing record for the test shattered by both drivers!
After the stage, Guy Fréquelin called Sébastien and Daniel. "Barring a surprise, we knew the fight was over. I told them they had no right to be disappointed. Even the Finns thought they would be strong here, and they lived up to expectations! Their duel with Marcus, on his home event, over stages he has driven for fifteen years, was fantastic. The others are a long way back and their puncture in the final stage was just down to bad luck..." Landing after a jump, the front right wheel of the Xsara landed smack on a half buried stone. The tyre was pinched between the rim and the stone and a big chunk of the tyre was cut, making it impossible for the ATS mousse system to function correctly.
"I gave it everything I could," concluded Seb at the evening service halt. "There was nothing I could do. Marcus was faster. Tomorrow, without taking any risks, I will try to keep Markko Märtin at bay with a view to scoring as many points as possible for myself and Citroën..."
In perfect keeping with the programme agreed with Guy Fréquelin, François Duval and Sven Smeets didn't take any risks and their biggest scare of the day came in Vaheri (SS10): "I was a bit quick into a left-hander and I preferred to take the safe option by going straight on into a farmyard where I was able to turn round. Apart from Seb, all the drivers ahead of me are Nordics and they are never easy to beat here. The positive thing is that I haven't made any mistakes and I am still on target to score points which is my objective..."