Loeb's sights set on the podium! After the twelve stages that made up Rally Japan's second leg, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen returned to this evening's service park in Kita Aikoku in 3rd place. The Xsara of Francois Duval and...
Loeb's sights set on the podium!
After the twelve stages that made up Rally Japan's second leg, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen returned to this evening's service park in Kita Aikoku in 3rd place. The Xsara of Francois Duval and Sven Smeets continues to figure in 7th spot, the position they held this morning.
Today's programme featured a dozen stages, the longest of which was a reasonable 16.25 km long, but there were also repeat runs at yesterday's trio of very short tests (all under 3km), namely two visits to the Rikubetsu rallycross track and the Satsunai super-special which served to break up the total of 485 km of road section.
Showers spreading in from the Sea of Japan to the south-west made the going damp and, even though the drizzle stopped quite early at the Kita Aikoku service park, it stayed with the drivers throughout the morning's five tests. It then stopped but the ground remained wet for the afternoon's loop.
It didn't take Sebastien Loeb long to see that it would be difficult to fend off Marcus Gronholm. Pushing as hard as he could in Emina (SS11), the Citroen driver saw his Finnish rival close quickly from behind: "In fact my tyre choice wasn't as good as it might have been in the conditions. As soon as I saw that despite pushing hard it would be difficult to match the pace of Marcus, I decided not to risk making a mistake."
At the lunch-time break, Francois Duval was pleased with his morning: "The going was very tricky, with a lot of deep ruts which it was best to stay in. Despite my lack of experience with the Xsara in such greasy conditions, I felt confident with the car and I made a good tyre choice. It's been a good start to the day..;"
In the early part of Leg 2, Sebastien saw that the stages had been cut up by the first pass. "The ruts were up to 30cm deep and the stages weren't much fun. Consciously or otherwise, my mind was made up to defend 3rd place. Marcus was too quick and, to make up the 25s gap he had pulled out would have meant taking too many risks. In our current situation, it would be foolish to make a mistake..."
The second part of Francois's day went just as well as the first. In the fight that is raging in the chasing pack, the young Belgian momentarily passed Chris Atkinson into 6th place (SS18 & 19) but then fell back behind the Australian driver. "I was a bit too cautious in the very delicate Menan stage which was run in the dark, especially as my headlights were set a little too high. I feel comfortable, I'm driving at a good pace and there are four of us grouped within just 13 seconds. It could be interesting tomorrow..."