WRC Loeb crashes out as Sordo leads after day two in Jordan
2008 JORDAN RALLY, April 24th-April 27th 2008
2008 FIA World Rally Championship, round 5
For immediate release
Saturday, April 26th, 2008
LOEB CRASHES OUT AS SORDO
LEADS AFTER DAY TWO IN JORDAN
World Champion Loeb sidelined by freak head-on accident
Sweden’s Sandell leads JWRC; UAE’s Al-Maktoum heads Group N
DEAD SEA (Jordan): Spaniards Dani Sordo and Marc Marti were ‘encouraged’ into a slender 8.5-second overall advantage after the second action-packed day of the 2008 Jordan Rally in the Dead Sea area of the Hashemite Kingdom on Saturday.
The overnight leader was forced to run first through the slippery gravel stages this morning and his French team mate Sébastien Loeb stormed into the lead over the opening three timed tests, before colliding with fellow Citroën driver Conrad Rautenbach on a two-way liaison section after the 11th stage.
Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala, Ford team mate Mikko Hirvonen and Sordo then became embroiled in a fascinating tussle for the podium places over the second loop, with Sordo disadvantaged by running first on the road. But Ford played a master stroke on the final stage of the second day and both leader-elect Latvala and Hirvonen eased their pace over the closing metres of SS16 to ensure that Sordo would have to start first again on what promises to be a thrilling final day at the Dead Sea.
Australian Chris Atkinson and Estonian Urmo Aava filled fourth and fifth position, with Britain’s Malcolm Wilson and Norwegian Henning Solberg close behind.
Eight stages were run on Saturday and Loeb shadowed Sordo into the first Turki special, a mere 1.1 seconds behind in the overall classification. But the reigning World Champion pushed hard over the opening kilometres and beat his Spanish team mate by 9.2s to open up an 8.1s lead, as thousands of spectators lined the winding gravel trails at one of the lowest points on earth.
Sordo struggled over the slippery and rocky surfaces, especially on the downhill sections. Loeb extended his lead to 16.3 seconds through Erak Elamir, where the Zimbabwe driver Conrad Rautenbach lost a minute to the leading group. Patrick Sandell maintained his JWRC lead, but the UAE’s Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum was enjoying a sensational run in a Group N Mitsubishi and led the showroom category in a top 15 place after as many stages.
Loeb maintained his dominance through the first Shuna stage and capitalised on Sordo’s road position to stretch his lead to 34.1 seconds. Running first on the road was a crippling disadvantage for the Spaniard, who found himself falling into the clutches of both Ford drivers Latvala and Hirvonen. Latvala was a mere 0.4 seconds behind Sordo heading into the first run through the special near the reputed Baptism site of Jesus Christ.
But the Frenchman never made it as far as the stage start. He was involved in a freak collision with Rautenbach’s car at a narrow two-way crossing point where cars entering the stage passed cars leaving the track and both Citroëns were extensively damaged. “It is terrible,” groaned co-driver Daniel Elena. “We drive flat out, we take big risks and all for nothing. We get smashed on a road section.”
Loeb had been trying to build up a 30-second cushion but was unable to reach the start of the 12th stage and Sordo found himself just 0.4 seconds ahead of Latvala in the overall classification. The Spaniard actually pipped his rival in the stage and headed into the final loop with a 0.7s overall lead. Hirvonen was a mere six seconds behind, with Australian Chris Atkinson, Estonian Urmo Aava and Britain’s Matthew Wilson trailing in their wake.
Sordo collected a slow puncture in the re-run of the crowded Turki stage and Latvala duly hit the front for the first time, with Ford colleague Hirvonen setting the outright fastest time to slip into second place. Running first on the road was costing Sordo dearly, even though the roads were not as slippery the second time around. A resurgent Gigi Galli was fastest in Erak Elamir as Latvala headed into the last two stages of the day two seconds ahead of Hirvonen and 4.4s in front of the Spaniard. Atkinson and Aava were a distant fourth and fifth.
Latvala extended his advantage to 4.6 seconds in Shuna, where Atkinson set the second fastest time and Hirvonen edged a further 2.1s away from Sordo. But the fun and games started in the closing metres of the Baptism Site special, when the leading Ford duo eased their pace to ensure that Sordo will act as the ‘road sweeper’ on Sunday.
The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi was on course for his first ever World Championship point if he could overcome the Argentine Federico Villagra and snatch eighth place. Emirati rival Suhail Khalifa was in the top 15 and maintaned a good Group N lead, while Sweden’s Patrick Sandell continued to dominate the JWRC category, with Estonia’s Jaan Mölder delayed by differential woes.
“I have been having a fantastic time in the stages,” admitted Sheikh Suhail. “To be leading Group N is brilliant on this event.”
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi succumbed to ninth stage mechanical problems and Jordanian Ala’ Khalifeh never started the day’s stages after a fire destroyed his Mitsubishi. But there was positive news down the leaderboard for regional drivers: Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi was Al-Maktoum’s closest Group N challenger and Lebanon’s Nick Georgiou, Jordan’s Mazan Tantash, Kuwait’s Salah Bin Eidan and veteran Michel Saleh were well-placed.
Sunday’s final leg of six special stages is dominated by two potentially treacherous runs through the 41.45km Jordan River special that skirts the border with Israel. Several of the leading drivers have plainly stated that this is the most difficult special of the entire event and will be run as the last test of the entire rally, which reaches a conclusion adjacent to the King Hussein Ben Talal Convention Centre on the shores of the Dead Sea from 15.00hrs.
2008 Jordan Rally – positions at end of day two (unofficial):
1. Dani Sordo (E)/Marc Marti (E) Citroën C4 WRC 2h 29m 02.9s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 07 2h 29m 11.4s
3. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 07 2h 29m 13.3s
4. Chris Atkinson (AUS)/Stéphane Prevot (B) Subaru Impreza WRC 2006 2h 31m 05.4s
5. Urmo Aava (EE)/Kuldar Sikk (EE) Citroën C4 WRC 2h 32m 10.1s
6. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Scott Martin )GB) Ford Focus RS WRC07 2h 33m 59.4s
7. Henning Solberg (N)/Cato Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS WRC 07 2h 34m 13.8s
8. Federico Villagra (RA)/Jorge-Perez Companc (RA) Ford Focus RS WRC 07 2h 35m 59.2s
9. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Ford Focus RS 2h 36m 13.4s
10. Gigi Galli (I)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Ford Focus RS WRC 07 2h 40m 32.6s
For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2008 Jordan Rally Media Office Manager, Main Media Centre, King Hussein Ben Talal Convention Centre, Dead Sea, Jordan, Tel: + 962 5 3560054 or Mobile: + 962 79 6920416, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org