Petter Solberg may hold the edge in the World Rally Championship's 13th round of competition in the 2005 season, but if Sebastien Loeb holds on to his third overall position until the end of Rally Japan, he will clinch the WRC championship in...
Petter Solberg may hold the edge in the World Rally Championship's 13th round of competition in the 2005 season, but if Sebastien Loeb holds on to his third overall position until the end of Rally Japan, he will clinch the WRC championship in spite of a Solberg win.
And yet, the Norwegian will continue to pursue the overall win tomorrow as one never knows if the Citroen will falter. The question would be "how hard will Loeb push?" On the other hand, Solberg and third-place man Marcus Gronholm will certainly do their part in pressing hard.
"I've pushed to the maximum today, perhaps a little too much in the morning but my tyre choice was too hard and I had no option," Solberg recounted. "We gave away a lot of seconds for free on the first group of stages but the afternoon was much better. My biggest fight today was not with Marcus, it was with the roads. It's been a long time since I won a rally and it's a feeling I want back. I'm sure Marcus will attack very hard tomorrow, but I want this win very much indeed."
For his part, Gronholm is not really optimistic of victory. "Tomorrow I do not think we have a chance to catch Petter under normal circumstances. We just have to do our best and get to the finish, which has been our aim throughout the rally."
Subaru's Solberg was the fastest in five of the special stages and leads Gronholm by over 32 seconds as they head into the final day. The Peugeot driver rallied back to tie Solberg in wins on Saturday, taking the best time on SS11, 12, 14, 15 and 17. Solberg's wins came on the 13th, 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th special stages.
"Marcus pushed really hard straight away," Loeb explained. " I wanted to increase the pace in the second stage, but our time wasn't fantastic. Actually I think our tyres choice wasn't the best possible considering the road conditions. When I realized that even if I pushed, I was struggling a bit to match Marcus' pace, I decided I shouldn't take any risks."
The Finn gave an insight of his thoughts on today, "This afternoon was quite tricky for us," Gronholm described his experiences. "For the last three stages we had a problem with the differential, which meant that the handling of the car was quite difficult. Then on the road section towards the superspecial we heard a noise from the gearbox, which worried me. Luckily we were able to make it to the end with no problems but it has not been easy."
The only other driver to score a victory on the other two specials today was Mitsubishi's Harri Rovanpera who opened the second day with the win on the first run (SS10) and then appropriate closed the day on the final stage, SS21, with his second stage victory.
Loeb made an early comeback on Friday after a spin in the first special, taking second overall by the end of the first leg. Today, though, Gronholm holds second by 38.8-seconds over the defending WRC champion.
With the two Mitsubishi drivers sitting fourth and fifth, over a minute adrift of Loeb, the Frenchman should seal up his back-to-back title on Sunday.
Gigi Galli slipped by Rovanpera on the penultimate stage of the day, as his teammate lost the use of his spotlights while the daylight was dying. Galli is hanging onto fourth place by 1.1 seconds, but Rovanpera is sure to be on a charge again on Sunday.
"We had the fog and main lights, but this means nothing in the type of conditions we are talking about," the Finn rued his SS20 experience. "In the open sections of the stage it was reasonably okay, but the minute you get under the trees and into the mud it is very difficult. But, overall we have to be very happy with the performance."
Chris Atkinson, the early overall leader, is right in the mix for fourth overall about 10 seconds behind Rovanpera.