Sebastien Ogier retained his lead of Rally Portugal, but his lead was slashed in half during the morning loop by Sebastien Loeb, and with more roadsweeping ahead for the younger Sebastien, a 21 second lead may not be enough to hold the multiple champion at bay.
Loeb started the day in dominating fashion, blitzing the opening stage of the day and taking 8 seconds out of Ogier in one go, with his nearest rival on the stage Jari-Matti Latvala some 2.8 seconds slower.
He wouldn’t go much further however, after the Finn hit a tree only four corners into the following stage, damaging the car so heavily he won’t be able to restart tomorrow under SupeRally regulations.
“The worst thing is I lost the manufacturers' points because I haven't been looking so much at the drivers' championship this season,” said Latvala. “In the beginning of the year we agreed we would concentrate for the manufacturers' championship as the second driver. It had been going well but now we've made a mistake and we should not be having these problems any more so we have work to do.”
While Latvala lost out on the second stage of the day, Loeb continued to gain more time on Ogier, and passed team-mate Dani Sordo for 2nd place in the process.
With midday service out of the way Ogier surprisingly turned the tables on Loeb, winning Stage 11 and extending his lead to over 28 seconds, while the older Sebastien had a poor stage and dropped back behind Sordo and into third. However Loeb was back to his best on the following test, reclaiming second and taking five seconds out of Ogier. Sordo meanwhile dropped down to 4th after a very conservative drive to try and preserve his tyres and what little grip they had left for the final stage of the day.
The final stage saw Loeb take a further two seconds out of Ogier, while Petter Solberg heads a three way battle for the final podium spot, with Sordo and Mikko Hirvonen just over 20 seconds away, despite the Finn having a worryingly average day.
Faulty power steering and a broken fuel pump hasn’t hindered Henning Solberg massively – he still retains 6th place ahead of Stobart Ford team-mate Matthew Wilson and Mads Ostberg, who has also been complaining of issues with his Impreza’s power steering.
The usually unstoppable Loeb has been genuinely worried this weekend, and barring any last minute nerves by Ogier, he may well have a reason to be.
“I have to push tomorrow but the gap is big and he is going very well,” he said. “We are only second on the road tomorrow so it won't be easy to make a difference. He was running very well but at the same time saving nicely his tyres. I was too cautious for the tyres and lost too much time.”
Jari Ketomaa continues to lead in the SWRC cup, after nearest rival Nasser Al-Attiyah suffered an electrical fault on the second stage of the day. His lead became bigger still after the next driver in line, PG Andersson, had already dropped plenty of time with a front-right puncture on the opening stage, only to suffer a right-rear wheel bearing failure later in the day.
“It hasn't been easy because on the first stage I went the wrong way at a junction and then I also nearly went into a ditch on the third stage,” said Ketomaa. “But even when Nasser stopped it was difficult to be less attacking because my pacenotes are designed to be fast so I couldn't just cruise to the finish although I did take less risks.”
This left Xevi Pons to pick up the pieces and take a fairly secure second place, strengthening his championship challenge further. Michal Kosciuszko moved up to the final podium place despite being stuck behind Janne Tuohino‘s ailing Fiesta for much of stage eight, suffering from broken steering.
Bernardo Sousa will cruise to the finish tomorrow – he is fourth in the SWRC standings but more importantly for him, leading the Portuguese Rally Championship field.
Behind the trio of drivers that suffered technical problems today (Andersson, Tuohino, Al-Attiyah), Eyvind Brynildsen continues to have a nightmare rally, after suffering an alternator failure today; “The engine is completely dead, we had to push the car into the control,” he said.
The fight for victory in the JWRC class was turned on its head today – Kevin Abbring felt dejected at the end of day one, a country mile behind Aaron Burkart and Yeray Lemes after a string of problems on the opening day – but this time it was the leading pair who succumed to the technical gremlins that have a habit of picking on Abbring’s Clio.
It only took a few kilometres into the first stage of the day for Lemes’ Clio to hit problems, when his car ground to a halt with a blown engine. This just made life even easier for Burkart, a lead of over 4 minutes meant he could cruise to the finish.
Though racing drivers being racing drivers, he didn’t back off enough. Sliding wide in SS11 damaged his radiator enough to cause overheating problems, forcing him to pull over mid-stage and retire on the spot.
With Alessandro Broccoli also retiring, this left Suzuki driver Karl Kruuda to pick up 2nd place – he and Abbring are the only two drivers to have completed both days of the rally so far, and barring any disasters, they are almost guaranteed to retain those places, with 3rd placed Burkart almost 11 minutes behind Abbring and over 6 minutes behind Kruuda.
Day Two Results
|1.||Sebastien Ogier||Citroen Junior Team||2:50:48.1|
|3.||Petter Solberg||Solberg World Rally Team||+52.2|
|5.||Mikko Hirvonen||Ford World Rally Team||+1:13.9|
|8.||Mads Ostberg||Adapta Motorsport||+5:36.7|
|9.||Kimi Raikkonen||Citroen Junior Team||+7:29.7|
|10.||Federico Villagra||Munchi’s Ford||+7:55.1|
|=.||Khalid Al Qassimi||Ford World Rally Team||+7:55.1|