WRC Friday wrap: Solberg on top in New Zealand Petter Solberg will start day two of Rally New Zealand in the lead following a dramatic start to round five of the World Rally Championship on the stages north of host city Auckland. However, ...
WRC Friday wrap: Solberg on top in New Zealand
Petter Solberg will start day two of Rally New Zealand in the lead following a dramatic start to round five of the World Rally Championship on the stages north of host city Auckland.
However, Sebastien Loeb, who began the event with a 40-point lead in the drivers' standings, is more than one minute off the pace following a major scare on the event's fourth stage when he struck a bridge in his Citroen C4 WRC and lost vital time trying to keep his driver's door closed.
Solberg, at the wheel of a privately-run C4, held the lead after the opening two stages but slipped behind Loeb's team-mate Dani Sordo, falling to fourth before striking back in the afternoon to go fastest through stage eight, the repeat of the Cassidy test where Loeb hit trouble in the morning, which handed him the overnight advantage.
"It has been very good today," said Solberg. "I have been calm, controlled and I feel great. The main thing for me is to know that Seb is behind me."
Solberg will begin day two at the head of the field, which will mean he will have to clean the road of the loose surface gravel. "I just have to deal with it," said the 2003 world champion. "Seb has done a good job today [cleaning the road] and I didn't do so bad myself [running just behind]."
Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala is second heading into day two, despite reporting that he wasn't happy with his driving during the morning's loop of four stages. He heads Citroen Junior Team's Sebastien Ogier, who was fastest on three of Friday's eight gravel stages.
Dani Sordo is fourth in the second works C4, having led after four stages. At the remote service halt in Whangarei, the Spaniard conceded that he might not be able to maintain his advantage through the afternoon and was proved right. "The morning was good but it will not decide the rally," said Sordo. "The difference is not so big between the cars and I am really happy and enjoying it."
Mikko Hirvonen is fifth overnight in the second works Focus and admitted he hadn't been pleased with his performance. "I have been pushing really hard and haven't made any mistakes but I just couldn't go any faster," said the Finn. "It has not been a good day."
Matthew Wilson went second fastest on stage two but any hopes the Briton had of repeating his startling early pace evaporated on stage three when his driver's side window shattered and filled the cockpit of his semi-works with shards of glass and dust. "What a nightmare," he said. "We were on a long straight and it just fell down. It's never happened before and it's not like we went through a compression or anything."
Loeb's recovery from his moment on stage four included setting the fastest time through stage seven. Although he has given up on winning for a fourth consecutive rally, he still believes a podium finish is possible. "It's going to be tough but we will try," he said after completing day one in seventh overall.