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WRC Loeb and Elena take a minute lead into final leg of Corona Rally Mexico

Corona Rally México
FIA World Rally Championship, round 4 of 16

For immediate release
Saturday, March 10th, 2007

WORLD CHAMPION LOEB EXTENDS HIS
OVERALL RALLY MEXICO LEAD AFTER LEG TWO

Finland’s Marcus Grönholm hits form and surges into second place;
Spain’s Dani Sordo and Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen battle it out for third overall;
Britain’s Mark Higgins leads PWRC category as rival Baldacci suffers agonising puncture

LEON (México): Defending World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena extended their overall lead in the 2007 Corona Rally México to 1m 00.8s after the second leg around León on Saturday.

But the form driver of the day was Finland’s Marcus Grönholm, who climbed from fifth to second overall once an engine sensor problem had been solved. The battle for second place was frantic and the Finn’s team mate Mikko Hirvonen and Spain’s Dani Sordo were inseparable for much of the afternoon, until Sordo edged 2.8 seconds ahead over the closing super special stages. Turbo boost problems pushed Chris Atkinson back into fifth place in the sole-surviving factory Subaru.

“It should be okay now,” said Loeb. “I know that Marcus is pushing hard, but it is not enough. I just need to make sure we stay concentrated, in touch with his times and we should be alright.”

“All is okay,” admitted Gronhölm. “I’m going to keep pushing as fast as I can. Normally, I cannot reach Sébastien, but you never know!”

Loeb had extended his overall lead to 37.6 seconds by setting the fastest time in the opening stage of the day, as Hirvonen and Atkinson were separated by a mere one second for second place. The Frenchman was again fastest in the 10th stage to further extend his overall lead to 48.2 seconds.

But the battle between Hirvonen and Atkinson intensified. The Australian beat his Finnish rival by 1.1 seconds and reduced the deficit to just 0.1 seconds. Meanwhile, Grönholm was in resurgent form and set the second fastest time to climb within 0.7 seconds of fourth-placed Dani Sordo.

Grönholm took his first stage win of the event in SS11 to leapfrog both Hirvonen and Atkinson into second place, although Loeb set the second fastest time and maintained a 57.6s lead. Hirvonen was a mere 0.1 seconds behind his team mate in third, with Atkinson three seconds adrift.

Loeb extended his overall lead to 59.2 seconds over Grönholm on SS12. Hirvonen was third quickest and found himself 18 seconds ahead of fourth-placed Dani Sordo. Atkinson slipped to fifth place after turbo boost problems.

Grönholm maintained the initiative with the fastest time in SS13, but Loeb shadowed the Finn to the finish and held a 56.8s lead on the gravel debut of the C4 WRC. A resurgent Sordo was third quickest and moved up to a similar position at the expense of Hirvonen, who dropped some time at the start of the special after sustaining two punctures and bodywork damage during an accident.

Atkinson maintained fifth, but it was an unlucky 13th stage for Gareth MacHale, who stopped mid-way through the test. Loeb won SS14 to take a 62-second lead into the super specials and maintained his lead to the end of the leg.

Austria’s Manfred Stohl was a patient fifth in his Kronos Citroën Xsara, while Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala and Matthew Wilson maintained seventh and eighth overall in a pair of Ford Focus RS WRC 2006s. Norway’s Henning Solberg recovered from first day problems to hold ninth overall in his Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Focus and Britain’s Mark Higgins rounded off the top 10 and led the PWRC category in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

Higgins saw his overnight PWRC lead whittled down to just 6.9 seconds after the opening stage. The former British champion was fifth, as Kristian Sohlberg set the fastest time and Mirco Baldacci strengthened his grip on second.

Baldacci moved into the PWRC lead at the expense of Mark Higgins by setting the fastest time in SS10, when Higgins thought he had a puncture and slowed a little. Baldacci beat the Manxman by 7.6 seconds to take the overall lead by just 0.7 seconds. Toshi Arai was third and maintained a similar position in the overall standings.

Higgins retook the lead by setting the fastest time in SS11. The Briton beat Baldacci by 6.8 seconds and led by 6.1 seconds, with Arai a distant third. Baldacci again set the fastest time in SS12 and reduced Higgins’s overall advantage to just 0.3 seconds.

The ding-dong battle for the PWRC lead swung back in Higgins’s favour in SS13. The Briton beat Baldacci by 3.9 seconds and edged into a 4.2 second lead, but the contest was all but settled in his favour in SS14 when Baldacci suffered a time-consuming flat tyre and slipped out of contention.

“We are working very well as a team in the car,” said Higgins. “We had a good rhythm and got the car dancing around nicely. I am happy so far. I need to keep going. Points are just so important.”

Tomorrow (Sunday) there are four special stages, including one final run through the Nextel super special. Cars will tackle one pass through the León, Guanajuatito and Comanjilla before the podium finish in León at 13.00hrs.

Positions after leg 2:
1. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) Citroën C4 WRC 3h 08m 27.0s
2. Marcus Grönholm (FIN)/Timo Rautianen (FIN) Ford Focus 3h 09m 27.8s
3. Dani Sordo (E)/Marc Marti (E) Citroën C4 WRC 3h 10m 02.3s
4. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus 3h 10m 05.1s
5. Chris Atkinson (AUS)/Glenn MacNeall (AUS) Subaru Impreza 3h 10m 14.8s
6. Manfred Stohl (A)/Ilka Minor (A) Citroën Xsara WRC 3h 11m 08.8s
7. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus 3h 12m 17.4s
8. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Michael Orr (GB) Ford Focus 3h 18m 48.5s
9. Henning Solberg (N)/Cato Menkerud (N) Ford Focus 3h 21m 37.0s
10. Mark Higgins (GB)/Scott Martin (GB) Mitsubishi Lancer 3h 25m 09.0s

For further media information: Corona Rally Mexico Media Centre
Tel: (477) 784 9388, Email: media@rallymexico.com, www.rallymexico.com

Date issued: 10/03/2007

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