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WRC Sebastien Loeb pulls well clear in Rally Mexico

RALLY GUANAJUATO BICENTENARIO, March 4th-7th, 2010

2010 FIA World Rally Championship, round 2


For immediate release
Saturday, March 6th, 2010

FRENCHMAN SĖBASTIEN LOEB PULLS WELL CLEAR IN RALLY MEXICO

 

·         Solberg and Ogier hold second and third to maintain Citroën’s 1-2-3

·         Sordo, Wilson and Block all sidelined on 10th special stage

·         Czech Martin Prokop moves ahead in S-WRC category

·         Portugal’s Armindo Araújo takes clear P-WRC lead after day two

 

LEÓN (Mexico): Defending World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena benefited from a favourable starting position and dry stage conditions to snatch the lead after day two of the Rally Guanajuato Bicentenario, round two of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), in Mexico on Saturday.

 

The French crew managed to pass overnight leader Petter Solberg on the second stage on Saturday morning and continued to edge away on the twisty gravel stages. “I have been pushing myself as hard as possible,” admitted Loeb. “If I was first on the road tomorrow, I knew it would be difficult so I needed to do my best today.”

 

Solberg – without a WRC victory since November 2005 – stayed in contention throughout the day in his privately-run Citroën C4 WRC and became embroiled in a tight tussle with young Sébastien Ogier of the Citroën Junior Team C4 for second position.  At the end of the day, Petter held a 2.7s advantage, although all three Citroëns had been the class of the depleted field.

 

Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen of the BP Abu Dhabi Ford Rally Team had struggled with a couple of punctures and minor technical issues and held a distant fourth and fifth overall in their Ford Focuses. They had been unable to make in-roads into Loeb’s advantage at all over the day’s nine stages and look set to miss out on the podium when the event reaches a conclusion on Sunday afternoon.

 

Spain’s Xavier Pons surrendered his advantage in the S-WRC to Czech driver Martin Prokop after clutch problems intervened. But the Ford Fiesta S2000 driver was back on a better pace over the closing stages of the day to set up a fascinating finale to the S-WRC on Sunday. Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah made several changes to the set-up of his new Škoda Fabia S2000 during the day and held third place.

 

When Japan’s Toshi Arai left the road and was forced to change a damaged wheel, Portugal’s Armindo Araújo cruised into a comfortable P-WRC lead. At the end of day two his advantage had risen to over three and a half minutes.

 

Day Two

 

Running order over the slippery and dusty gravel surfaces was going to be critical once again and Loeb benefited from starting the 10th stage in third by taking the fastest time. He won the special by 10.3s to reduce Solberg’s outright lead to just 10.7s.

 

Ogier slipped to third overall, but Matthew Wilson slid into a ditch near the end of the special and finished off the road on three wheels. Sordo was sidelined with a broken suspension wishbone after a heavy impact and American driver Ken Block damaged his Ford’s suspension.

 

Latvala and Hirvonen duly moved up to fourth and fifth overall and Arai tied Araújo to the tenth of a second at the head of a thrilling battle for P-WRC honours. Pons extended his advantage over Prokop to 22.9s in the S-WRC category and moved up to eighth.

 

Predictably, Loeb hit the front for the first time by posting the fastest time through Duarte and moved into a 5.2s advantage over Solberg. The Frenchman was again quickest through Derramadero and extended his lead to 16.6s, as Ogier climbed to within 1.9s of the Norwegian overnight leader.

 

Latvala and Hirvonen were clearly struggling to match the leading Citroëns. Latvala punctured and complained about a differential problem and Hirvonen also suffered a flat tyre. The Fords were now over a minute behind the leading C4, but remained ahead of Henning Solberg, who complained of brake problems and needed to bleed the system between stages.

 

Araújo had slipped in front of Arai through Duarte and the P-WRC section was all but settled in the Portuguese defending champion’s favour in Derramadero. Arai slid off the track in his Subaru and lost four minutes changing a damaged wheel.

 

Pons lost his S-WRC lead to Prokop in the 11th stage after clutch and overheating problems and the Spaniard completed the subsequent test with no front bumper. Prokop headed for the Coca-Cola street stage with a 12.9s advantage in the S2000 category. Al-Attiyah held a distant third after making changes to the suspension settings on his new Škoda Fabia S2000.

 

Loeb was fastest on the street stage and headed into service with a 17.8s lead. "It was a good drive this morning, with just a few little mistakes,” said the six-time FIA World Champion. “I was on the limit at times. I will try to continue to increase the lead on the second passes but maybe I won’t be able to make as much of a difference.”

 

He was again quickest through SS14, where Ogier pipped Petter Solberg and managed to slip into second position by 1.6s. Pons was unable to challenge Prokop for the S-WRC until the clutch was repaired, although the Spaniard reduced the Czech’s lead to just 5.7s through the 14th stage, where Araújo maintained his comfortable cushion in the P-WRC and Prokop complained of fuel fumes in the car.

 

Loeb continued to pull clear of his rivals through SS15, but Solberg pipped Ogier and regained second position by the slimmest of margins when the Frenchman stalled and lost five seconds. Latvala and Hirvonen managed to gain some time on both Solberg and Ogier, but they still fell further behind Loeb heading to the 16th Derramadero stage.

 

The World Champion’s lead grew to 53.1s after SS16, although Solberg tightened his grip on second position and the margin climbed to 5.5s. Hirvonen benefited from a change to the settings on his Ford Focus and set the second fastest time, but remained rooted in fifth position behind Latvala and third-placed Ogier.

 

Two runs through the short super special stage remained – where Loeb and Ogier set the fastest times  - but there were no changes to the top six leader board and a fascinating finale is now in prospect on day three.

 

Tomorrow (Sunday) crews will tackle just two demanding gravel stages and one run through the super special stage.  Action gets underway with the 28.70km Guanajuatito stage at 08.43hrs and teams will then tackle the Comanjilla special, following the cancellation of the short Sauz Laborcita test on safety grounds. Two laps of the final super special get underway at 11.32hrs and the ceremonial finish is scheduled for 13.00hrs.

 

Positions after SS18 (end of day two):

1. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) Citroën C4 WRC                                    3h 08m 49.6s

2. Petter Solberg (N)/Phil Mills (GB) Citroën C4 WRC                                                3h 09m 45.1s

3. Sébastien Ogier (F)/Julien Ingrassia (F) Citroën C4 WRC                                    3h 09m 47.8s

4. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 09                        3h 10m 33.5s

5. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 09                        3h 10m 49.5s

6. Henning Solberg (N)/Ilka Minor (A) Ford Focus RS WRC 08                                 3h 11m 14.8s

7. Federico Villagra (RA)/Jorge Perez Companc (RA) Ford Focus RS WRC 08            3h 18m 01.4s

8. Martin Prokop (CZ)/Jan Tomânek (CZ) Ford Fiesta S2000                           3h 25m 17.6s

9. Xavier Pons (E)/Alex Haro (E) Ford Fiesta S2000                                       3h 25m 22.4s

10. Armindo Araújo (P)/Miguel Ramalho (P) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX          3h 26m 54.3s

11. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Škoda Fabia S2000   3h 27m 29.2s

12. Toshi Arai (J)/Daniel Barritt (GB) Subaru Impreza                                     3h 30m 34.1s

 

Ends


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Rally Guanajuato Bicentenario Media Centre, Poliforum Expo Centre, León, Mexico, Tel: + 52 (477) 7714867 or + 52 (477) 7114828, E-mail: media@rallymexico.com, eugenio@rallymexico.commauriciog@rallymexico.com or ndppublicity@googlemail.com

 

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Date issued: 06/03/2010

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