Friday wrap: Loeb heads close fight for Rally GB win The battle for victory on Wales Rally GB, the final round of the 2010 World Rally Championship, is tightly poised following the opening exchanges in the Principality today. Sebastien Loeb,...
Friday wrap: Loeb heads close fight for Rally GB win
The battle for victory on Wales Rally GB, the final round of the 2010 World Rally Championship, is tightly poised following the opening exchanges in the Principality today.
Sebastien Loeb, crowned world champion for the seventh time last month, heads Petter Solberg by 1.8s following the completion of day one's seven stages, which were held in slippery conditions following overnight rain and further downpours in the afternoon.
Citroen C4 driver Loeb started Friday's opening stage, the 32.14-kilometre charge through Hafren Forest, with a lead of 0.7s over Jari-Matti Latvala following his fastest time through Thursday night's Cardiff Bay stage.
Despite a wild moment when he ran wide on a corner, Latvala went quickest in his factory Ford Focus to take a slender one-second lead. Although he slipped back when his car's engine ingested water going through the second splash in Sweet Lamb and stuttered momentarily (click here to see the incident), a determined run through Myherin meant he stopped the clocks 3.2s faster than Loeb to go back in front of the Frenchman in the overall standings at the midway point.
Latvala, from Finland, moved further clear in the afternoon and started the second Myherin stage, the final test of the day, 4.5s in front. However, disaster struck five kilometres from the start when the Finn nudged a bank with his left-hand rear wheel, pushing the tyre from the rim and causing a puncture which dropped him to sixth overall, 1m07.0s behind Loeb, who holds top spot overnight.
"The conditions have been very hard today and if you push too much it is very easy to go off the road," said Frenchman Loeb. "The grip improved a bit in the afternoon but still it was not easy."
Solberg, a four-time Rally GB winner, has yet to record a single fastest stage time in his privately-run Citroen, but was rapid throughout, even though he had to grapple with a broken starter motor and a gear selection fault for much of the day. "Our position is unbelievable given the problems we are having," said the Norwegian.
Sebastien Ogier completes a Citroen podium lockout in the second works C4. The former Junior world champion admitted to struggling in the morning due to the inconsistent levels of grip but showed his undoubted potential by going fastest on the repeat of the Hafren stage, which followed the midday remote service halt in Builth Wells.
Mikko Hirvonen heads the Ford challenge in fourth overall following Latvala's puncture but was at a loss to explain his lack of stage-winning pace. "I'm driving just like I did last year but the time is not there," he said.
Dani Sordo is fifth for the Citroen Junior Team with Henning Solberg seventh for the works-assisted Stobart M-Sport operation.
Matthew Wilson is the leading British driver in eighth overall. The Stobart M-Sport Focus pilot should have been further up the order but dropped 20 seconds with a spin and a stall on SS2 before losing more ground with an overshoot on SS3.
Mads Ostberg, whose Subaru Impreza has suffered from turbo and steering problems, is ninth with ex-Formula One star Kimi Raikkonen tenth on his Rally GB debut in his Red Bull-backed Citroen.