Two Xsaras in the Top 4! After day 2 of Rally Japan, SÃ©bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena still lie an excellent second. Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti, fifth this morning, gained one place to move ahead of Marcus GrÃ¶nholm (stage 14), with whom they...
Two Xsaras in the Top 4!
After day 2 of Rally Japan, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena still lie an excellent second. Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti, fifth this morning, gained one place to move ahead of Marcus Grönholm (stage 14), with whom they have been swapping positions throughout the afternoon.
As yesterday, the competitors started at dawn to head North of the Tokachi district for a five-stage loop centred around the Rikubetsu mini speed test. The first two stages surprised both Citroën drivers as they were wider than the other stages of the Japanese round, and also covered in stones. They reminded Carlos and Seb' of the New Zealand terrain. Is this for this reason that Seb' dropped a few seconds or because he had chosen a too hard tyre compound ? In any case, at that stage, Petter Solberg's lead increased to 22 seconds.
Today's longest stage - Kimun Kamuy - covering 26 km, revealed damper conditions, as expected. Despite posting the second fastest time, Seb' conceded 18 more seconds to the leader. At that time, Marcus Grönholm, who was fighting with the young Frenchman, experienced gearbox problems. At the midday service, Seb' was lying 46 seconds behind Solberg and in front of Markko Märtin - now in third - with an equivalent gap. It was time for a change of strategy for the Citroën driver...
Seb' adopted a controlled pace for the second group of stages, leaving Carlos Sainz in a thrilling battle with Markko and Marcus. He encountered no problem throughout the afternoon except a spin with a stalled engine on stage 18. The team which was gathered in the Citroën service area in Kita Aikoku shook when watching the first split time on the screen but felt relieved with those following. "I said yesterday that the key point would be tyre choice, explained Seb. It was true. The compound we chose for our tyres for the first loop was too hard. It changed the situation and I know now that I have to secure my second place."
Carlos Sainz has adopted his usual tactics in the close battles : fight for any tenth of a second. This is how he won today's penultimate and final stages. " It was a very tiring day - mainly because of the long road sections - difficult but also more rewarding than yesterday's. There's still a long way to go and I'm sure the battle with Markko Märtin and Marcus Grönholm will be exciting..."
Guy Fréquelin remains tonight as cautious as usual : "We have found here some stages with different profiles and different surfaces, sometimes covered in stones and sometimes not. On some sections damp patches were even appearing after the first pass through. This rally has been very complicated to handle so far and there's no reason why it should be easier tomorrow, especially because there are still two runs through the event's longest stage..."