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WRC Frenchman Loeb extends overall lead in Cyprus Rally

FxPro CYPRUS RALLY, March 13th-15th 2009
FIA World Rally Championship, round three

For immediate release
Saturday, March 14th, 2009

FRENCHMAN SÉBASTIEN LOEB EXTENDS
OVERALL LEAD IN FxPRO CYPRUS RALLY

·Latvala slides out of top 10; Ford's Hirvonen climbs to second overall
·PWRC lead for Portugal's Araújo; Czech Prokop stays ahead in JWRC

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): Citroën Racing's Sébastien Loeb belied the obvious disadvantage of running as the first car through day two's five gravel special stages of the FxPro Cyprus Rally, round three of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, to extend his overall lead to 49.8 seconds on Saturday evening.

The Frenchman closed in on a record-breaking 50th WRC win with a professional performance in tricky and muddy stage conditions. BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Mikko Hirvonen disposed of Spaniard Dani Sordo on the second stage of the day and began to pressurise Loeb throughout the afternoon, but the Finn will have his work cut out to catch the defending World Champion on Sunday's final three gravel stages in the Troodos mountains.

Norwegian Petter Solberg improved as the day progressed, set the fastest times in the 10th and 11th stages and held fourth overall in his Citroën Xsara, but Frenchman Sébastien Ogier rolled his C4 down to seventh overall earlier in the day and then climbed back to sixth. His delay handed fifth place to Britain's Matthew Wilson, while Russia's Evgeny Novikov holds seventh overall.

Zimbabwe's Conrad Rautenbach, Argentinean driver Federico Villagra and the UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi completed the top 10. The classification meant that nine driver nationalities filled the top 10 places at the end of day two, although Al-Qassimi complained that he had a couple of overshoots and the loss of the handbrake cost him valuable time on the tight hairpins.

Loeb extended his lead over Sordo to 50.6 seconds by setting the third fastest time in dry, bright conditions through the Anadiou Dam stage at the start of the day. Latvala pipped his Ford team mate to the fastest time by 4.7 seconds, but the stage win had little impact on Loeb's overall advantage. Hirvonen closed to within eight seconds of Sordo, however.

Loeb admitted that wet conditions would suit his quest for victory down to the ground and the fact that he was forced to sweep the road as first car should have played into his rivals' hands. But he set the second fastest time in the muddy and slippery 28km of Pano Panagia. "If it had been dry for two days, then a one minute lead would not have been enough," admitted the Frenchman, who had pulled a master stroke by using part-worn gravel tyres on Friday's asphalt stages.

Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala left the road 7.5km into the muddy Pano Panagia special. He ran for one kilometre to drum up enough spectators to help put the car back on the track and managed to struggle to the finish with the loss of 21 minutes. "It was a big disaster," groaned the Finn. "I have lost a lot of points."

Loeb duly cruised into a 56.6s overall lead, with Hirvonen managing to pass Sordo and take second overall after setting the fastest time. Sébastien Ogier lost over two minutes after inverting his Citroën when his wipers failed and the Frenchman slipped behind Novikov and Wilson into seventh overall.

The 18.54km of Orkontas played into Loeb's hands and he extended his lead to 68 seconds by setting the fastest time, despite a stall and a minor spin. Hirvonen edged three seconds further ahead of Sordo, as Latvala recovered from his eighth stage woes to set the second fastest time.

Hirvonen reduced Loeb's lead to 65.6 seconds through Xyliatos - where the Frenchman complained of a minor brake problem for the last 10km - but Mikko was unable to make any more in-roads into the deficit through Kourdali and Loeb headed into the final service of the day in a comfortable position.

Portugal's Armindo Araújo kept his PWRC lead through the opening stage, although Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah set the fastest production time, beat the Portuguese by 21 seconds and climbed ahead of Italy's Simone Campedelli. The Qatari set the 10th fastest time, beating several World Rally Cars into the bargain, although Campedelli suffered rear transmission problems and Czech driver Martin Semerad, Frenchman Frederic Sauvan and Cypriot Nicos Thomas stopped in the stage.

Sandell set the fastest time through SS9 and closed to within 13 seconds of Araújo, but Cypriot Charalambous Timotheou was plagued by transmission problems. Over the closing kilometres, Sandell and Al-Attiyah began to pressurise the Portuguese to set up the prospect of a fascinating showdown over the final three stages on Sunday.

JWRC rivals Martin Prokop and Michal Kosciuszko complained of wheel spin in the muddy conditions and the Pole gained a chunk of time on Prokop through the opening kilometres, but the Czech driver maintained his JWRC lead heading towards the end of the day.

Tomorrow (Sunday) teams will tackle three difficult gravel stages that will provide a real sting in the tail for surviving crews. The 30km Foini special gets the action underway at 09.15hrs and a second run through the Anadiou Dam special will be preceded by the punishing 40.54km Anadiou stage from 10.46hrs. The ceremonial finish will take place on the sea front in Limassol from 14.20hrs, although music and festivities will start from 13.00hrs for spectators.

2009 FxPro Cyprus Rally - positions after SS11 (unofficial @ 17.25hrs):
1. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) Citroën C4    3h 33m 43.8s
2. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 08  3h 34m 33.6s
3. Dani Sordo (E)/Marc Marti (E) Citroën C4     3h 35m 19.8s
4. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB) Citroën Xsara    3h 35m 35.7s
5. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Scott Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC 08  3h 38m 57,5s
6. Sébastien Ogier (F)/Julien Ingrassia (F) Citroën C4    3h 39m 26.6s
7. Evgeny Novikov (RUS)/Dale Moscatt (AUS) Citroën C4 WRC   3h 40m 06.6s
8. Conrad Rautenbach (ZW)/Daniel Barritt (GB) Citroën C4 WRC   3h 41m 07.3s
9. Federico Villagra (RA)/Jorge Perez-Companc (AR) Ford Focus RS WRC 08 3h 42m 44.7s
10. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC 08  3h 43m 13.4s

Ends

For further media information:
2009 FxPro Cyprus Rally media office, Tel: + 357 25314775, E-mail: pressoffice@actionprgroup.com

www.cyprusrally.com.cy

Date issued: 14/03/2009

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