Sebastien Loeb takes a 30 second lead into the final day of Rally GB over championship rival Mikko Hirvonen, and looks to have a record 6th title in his sights.
Hirvonen had been fastest on the day’s opening stage, taking 2 seconds out of Loeb, but from there on it all started to slip away for the Ford man as Loeb took 20 seconds out of Hirvonen on the next two stages alone. He managed to limit his time-loss in the afternoon, but Loeb still looks to be in the box seat for the final day.
“I made a great start this morning but something wasn’t right on the next two stages,” said Hirvonen. “I couldn’t make good times and I really don’t understand what went wrong. It’s not been a good day.“
Hirvonen initially thought he had a jammed transmission tunnel but further inspection by his mechanics indicated no apparent mechanical problems.
Conversely Loeb was very enthusiastic by the end of SS12, driving brilliantly in what could be the final pivotal moment in the title race.
“I’m very happy, we’ve done a really, really good day, especially those two stages in the morning,” said Loeb. “Now he’s faster and I cannot make the same difference, but it was still a good drive with no mistakes and we will lead tomorrow.”
Meanwhile the battle for third swung in Dani Sordo‘s favour, after Petter Solberg ran into a ditch on the opening stage of the day, dropping about 20 seconds in the process. Sordo now has a 24 second advantage over Solberg heading into the final day.
“What can you do? That's just how it is sometimes,” Solberg shrugged. “It’s actually gone very well this afternoon. We’ve been close to winning stages and on Halfway [SS12] we were matching Loeb’s time before I made a mistake in a corner. But it’s been a good day.”
The remaining points scorers settled into position and will likely finish as they stand bar any accidents or technical gremlins. Jari-Matti Latvala who had a dreadful first day finally picked up the pace this afternoon, but it’s too little too late for the Finn.
“It was a tricky day,” said Latvala. “The grip was OK this morning because the rain washed the mud from the surface, but there was a lot of standing water in the ruts. That was difficult, especially in the braking areas. This afternoon my road position didn’t help. The solid surface was covered with mud and it was really slippery. I wasn’t happy with my driving, perhaps I have been thinking about things too much instead of getting in the car and just driving.”
Eyvind Brynildsen played the percentage game today in the PWRC class, yet still extended his lead to more than two minutes over Martin Prokop.
Fellow Skoda driver Patrik Sandell had been in 2nd place at the beginning of the day, but a mistake on SS9 meant he was stuck in a ditch for over 15 minutes, dropping him way down the order. However, the Swede blitzed the field in the afternoon loop, winning all 3 remaining stages, and moving up to 9th.
“The afternoon has been great,” said Sandell. “We have had a good time – the mechanics did an incredible job to get the car repaired and all sorted out for us this afternoon.”
This meant former champion Toshi Arai moved into the final podium position, and another Pirelli Star Driver, Martin Semerad, moved up to fourth, at the expense of team-mate Jarkko Nikara. Bernardo Sousa regained 5th place from the 3rd Pirelli Star Driver, Mark Tapper, ahead of SupeRally starters Patrik Flodin and Nasser Al-Attiyah.
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT 2hours 32mins 21.4secs
2. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi +00mins 30.2secs
3. Dani Sordo Citroen Total WRT +01mins 20.1secs
4. Petter Solberg Citroen Junior Team +01mins 44.1secs
5. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Junior Team +04mins 21.6secs
6. Henning Solberg Stobart VK Ford +05mins 22.8secs
7. Matthew Wilson Stobart VK Ford +06mins 30.0secs
8. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus +08mins 02.5secs
9. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen Junior Team +12mins 00.1secs
10. Aaron Burkart Citroen Junior Team +16mins 28.2secs
1. Eyvind Brynildsen Skoda Fabia S2000 2hours 49mins 37.1secs
2. Martin Prokop Mitsubishi Lancer Evo +02mins 14.2secs
3. Toshi Arai Subaru Impreza N14 +03mins 31.0secs
4. Martin Semerad Mitsubishi Lancer Evo +21mins 37.9secs
5. Bernardo Sousa Fiat Abarth Grande Punto S2000 +22mins 35.2secs
Photo credit: Rally GB