Rally d'Italia Sardegna
Saturday WRC wrap: Loeb heading for Sardinia victory
Sebastien Loeb has increased his grip on the Rally d'Italia Sardegna winners' trophy by completing day two of the demanding world championship qualifier with a lead of almost 30 seconds.
Co-driven by Daniel Elena, Loeb began Saturday’s first stage with an advantage of 33.2s in his Citroen DS3 WRC. Despite having to clean the road of the loose surface gravel for those running behind, Loeb was able to minimise any potential time loss throughout the day.
After completing the day’s final stage, the 14.21-kilometre Su Filigosu test, he suggested his overnight lead of 28.3s might be enough to ensure win number two of the all-action 2011 season.
“It was a great day, a very hard day also, but a great day,” said the 37-year-old Loeb. “It’s really difficult to accept losing time when you are cleaning the road in difficult conditions but we had to keep concentrated and continue to believe it would be okay. Twenty-eight seconds should be enough but it’s still a difficult day tomorrow.”
But while Loeb, world title winner for the last seven years, is eyeing his fourth victory on the Mediterranean island, a thrilling battle is raging for second place with Mikko Hirvonen, Sebastien Ogier and Petter Solberg covered a little more than 10 seconds heading into Sunday’s final quartet of stages.
Hirvonen is second in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, 6.3s up on Citroen driver Ogier with Solberg a further 4.9s behind in his DS3.
“Sebastien [Loeb] was very fast in the last two stages and I wasn’t really able to take much time out of him,” said Hirvonen. “Petter and Ogier are very close and we will all have to go flat-out tomorrow and that will keep the pressure on Sebastien. You never know what will happen.”
Solberg, meanwhile, suggested his time loss with a puncture on Saturday’s second stage has ended his hopes of victory but he remains firmly on course for his first podium of 2011. “Generally I’m very happy and feeling very good pushing like this,” said the Norwegian.
Mads Ostberg is fifth overnight having overcome a few handling issues in the morning and a minor scare on Saturday’s final test when a steering arm worked loose on his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta.
Dani Sordo has completed day two in an impressive sixth overall in his MINI John Cooper Works WRC. The Spaniard reported a throttle problem during the afternoon but was more fortunate than team-mate Kris Meeke who stopped on the day’s second test when his car developed a water leak.
Ott Tanak is the leading Super 2000 World Rally Championship competitor in seventh overall. Class rival Juho Hanninen is eighth with Matthew Wilson ninth for the M-Sport Stobart team, after reporting no recurrence of the brake problems that slowed him on Friday.
Nasser Al-Attiyah completes the top 10 in his S2000 Fiesta with Dennis Kuipers 11th in his FERM Power Tools World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC. Khalid Al Qassimi is 12th in his Team Abu Dhabi example with Armindo Araujo 13th in a Motorsport Italia MINI. The Portuguese admitted to struggling to find a workable set-up on his car and also lost ground when a water bottle worked loose during stage 12.
One of the stars of day two, however, was factory Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn restarted under SupeRally regulations this morning following his retirement on day one. He gave an indication of what might have been when he went fastest on five of the day’s six special stages.