After an action-packed leg, SÃ©bastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC have taken the lead of the Swedish Rally, around fourty seconds ahead of Marcus GrÃ¶nholm. Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti were lying in fifth position when they returned to...
After an action-packed leg, Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC have taken the lead of the Swedish Rally, around fourty seconds ahead of Marcus Grönholm. Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti were lying in fifth position when they returned to Karlstad tonight.
With approximately the same number of kilometres to cover as in the first leg, the day looked like being long and tricky. It kept all its promises, and the long list of mistakes made, including some from the top drivers, aptly illustrated the extreme difficulty posed by this rally to the speeding acrobats who are competing, at an average pace of over 110 km/h.
To the extreme pleasure of the drivers and the thousands of spectators, it snowed during the night. It did not matter that the sky remained overcast : the temperature stayed around zero degrees, maintaining suitable conditions for the event.
Starting fourth, Carlos Sainz gained one place when Petter Solberg was delayed (SS6). Two stages later, it was the turn of the Madrid-based driver to lose time : "In a dip, the front of the car plunged into the snow. It blocked the engine air intake. I had to stop so that my co-driver Marc Marti could clear it. " Carlos slipped down to seventh place, but bad luck had not yet finished with him. In "Lejen" (SS9), he was taken by surprise by Mikko Hirvonen. The young Finn was just getting going again, after having gone off, and had not seen the Xsara approaching. To avoid a collision, the Spaniard turned hard left, nose in the snow bank, and finished by spinning, losing another thirty seconds. Despite this incident, Carlos gained one place, at the expense of young Mikko. With no problems during the last four special stages, Sainz began to make his recovery, setting some excellent times. This evening he is waiting in ambush, just a few tenths of a second behind Tuohino, and has not lost hope of climbing higher in the classification before reaching the finish line.
After the misadventures which befell his Spanish team-mate, Sébastien Loeb found himself caught between the leader, Markko Märtin, and Marcus Grönholm, the Swedish Rally's three times winner. Having got to grips with the road conditions, different from those encountered yesterday, and with the possibility of leaning against the snow banks, Seb set his first fastest time of the day (SS9), thwarting both Martin's breakaway and Grönholm's return. During the next special stage, the Estonian was to make a mistake : "I inherited the lead," Seb commented calmly. "I am obviously not going to say that I am not satisfied, but I am not getting over excited about it either. What happened to Markko proves that at the speeds we are driving, it is very easy to make a mistake. I mustn't lose my concentration to maintain the same pace in order to keep Marcus Grönholm behind me..."
It was a case of 'mission accomplished' after "Vargåsen", the longest special stage of the day (39.95 km) : with another fastest time, Seb increased his margin on Marcus to around 40 seconds. A solid lead, which he will have to maintain with calm and lucidity. It is well known that the young French driver does not lack either of these qualities...