WRC Saturday wrap: Ogier leads but Loeb is close behind Sebastien Ogier is four stages away from a sensational debut victory on Rally New Zealand - providing he can fend off Sebastien Loeb on the final day of the world championship...
WRC Saturday wrap: Ogier leads but Loeb is close behind
Sebastien Ogier is four stages away from a sensational debut victory on Rally New Zealand - providing he can fend off Sebastien Loeb on the final day of the world championship event.
Loeb, the six-time world champion, was 1m19.8s adrift of the lead at the start of day two following a disastrous run through Friday's fourth stage when he damaged his Citroen C4 WRC's side door striking a bridge.
But a sensational performance by Loeb has catapulted the world championship leader to within touching distance of a fourth consecutive win after he went fastest on all six of Saturday's gravel stages. He will start day three of the Auckland-based event 5.3 seconds behind Citroen Junior Team driver Ogier, who is chasing his first WRC victory in only his second full season in the global series.
"It has been in incredible day; flat-out from the start to the end and now we've made up the gap to first place," said Loeb. "We're five seconds behind Sebastien and everything is possible again. I'm really happy. I think I couldn't do better," added the 36-year-old Frenchman, who said he had made the most of starting seventh on the road.
Ogier began day two in third place behind Petter Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala but moved ahead of the pair on Saturday's opening New Franklin stage. With Solberg and Latvala fighting through the loose surface gravel, Ogier gradually pulled clear and cemented a strong morning with the fastest time through the all-asphalt Hampton Downs Super Special.
Despite his best efforts, Ogier was unable to prevent Loeb from eating into his advantage out front. "We had a good morning and we tried to push hard but Sebastien has just been too fast," said Ogier.
Latvala is third overnight in his Ford Focus, 33.2 seconds behind Ogier. The Finn said he had been too cautious in the morning and also admitted he'd struggled adapting his pacenotes to suit the dry conditions after it had rained during reconnaissance.
Dani Sordo returned to overnight service in Auckland in fourth, 6.1s ahead of Solberg. "I tried to be fast but it has been difficult, especially if you brake too late because it's easy to go out of the line," said Sordo.
Solberg's pursuit of his first WRC victory since 2005 appears to have fallen short after he slipped to fifth overall, 53.6s behind Ogier. The Norwegian suffered from running first on the road to the extent he conceded he was powerless to halt his disappointing slide down the leaderboard. "I knew before the start it was going to be tough but there was so much [loose] gravel on the road in the morning that there really was nothing I could do," said Solberg.
Mikko Hirvonen's navigator Jarmo Lehtinen was convinced his driver could fight for victory after completing day one 20.2 off first place. However, a spin seven kilometres from the end of the 20.82-kilometre New Franklin stage on Saturday morning has dictated otherwise. "I just tried to push too hard and made a mistake," said Hirvonen, who is sixth overall with four stages remaining. "I thought I had broken the suspension but fortunately that wasn't the case."
Matthew Wilson began day two with a new gearbox fitted in his Stobart M-Sport Focus after the original began to malfunction on Friday afternoon. He is seventh overnight and comfortably clear of team-mate Henning Solberg.