Loeb unstoppable in Rally New Zealand
- 8th May 2010, 6:22pm
World champion Sébastien Loeb has put himself within an inch of the lead in Rally New Zealand as fellow Citroen pilot, Sébastien Ogier leads after crews returned to Auckland after the second day of action.
From his overnight starting position of seventh, Loeb drove devastatingly fast through Saturday’s eight special stages, averaging at least one second per kilometre better than any other driver during the day’s 155.62 competitive kilometres. Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena, in their Citroen C4 WRC, took six stage victories and cut their overnight deficit from 1m 19s to end the day a scant 5.3 seconds adrift of Ogier and Julien Ingrassia in the Citroën Junior Team C4.
The six-time world champion rated it his best performance yet. “I think this was my greatest rally day; it was incredible,” said Loeb. “We drove today flat-out everywhere and in every stage. We pushed hard all day and had some very, very good times and now we are second. I knew with my road position I could take time, so overall today was not so bad.”
Ogier was happy despite not being able to match Loeb’s pace. “Today was very good. Our car was very strong, and we are still in the lead,” said the former junior world rally champion.
Overnight leader Petter Solberg remains confident of a podium position in his privately-entered Citroën C4 WRC car after spending the day at the top of the running order, ahead of BP Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Ogier. “I am ‘on it’, I can tell you! I am using all of the road and then more! I am going to keep trying to get the times as best as I can, so I will try my hardest and see how it goes.” Solberg is fifth, 53.6 seconds behind Ogier, but like Loeb today, has the advantage of a better-swept road for the rally’s final four stages in Raglan.
Latvala holds third place going into the rally’s final day, 33.2 seconds behind Loeb while Loeb’s Citroen works team-mate Dani Sordo is fourth.
Ford’s other works driver Mikko Hirvonen had a difficult day. “I tried so hard but I just can’t go any faster. I made a mistake this morning but after that I drove well and really enjoyed the stages. I’m happier with my driving today and a harder suspension set-up was better, but the times just weren’t there. It has been a long time since I’ve been happy with my driving yet found myself in sixth,” added the 29-year-old Finn.
Rally New Zealand, the fifth round of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship, is also a round of Super 2000 WRC and Production WRC support championships. Finn Jari Ketomaa leads the S2000 category in his Ford Fiesta S2000, by more than a minute from Xavier Pons’ similar car. “It was a very, very good day. the morning didn’t start so well, but we went well through the Te Akau stage [one of the event’s longest] and got better this afternoon,” said Ketomaa who is ninth overall going into day three.
The leading Kiwi is two-time New Zealand champion Hayden Paddon, who also leads the PWRC section as well as being the best-placed New Zealand Rally Championship competitor in his Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX. Paddon is 15th overall ahead of fellow New Zealanders Chris West (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX) in the NZRC standings and Emma Gilmour (Subaru Impreza STI) in the PWRC standings.
Aucklander Mark Tapper had been the highest running Kiwi until he rolled out of 12th place in Stage 15 near Naike in his Group A Mitsubishi Lancer.
The event’s second day also featured a first, a special ‘carnival’ at Hampton Downs. While the rally competitors completed two super special stages on the recently-built motor racing circuit, organisers put on an impressive array of other motorsport spectacles for fans to enjoy.
“We were absolutely thrilled to see what was easily more than 15,000 people enjoying this unique mix of rally and racing action,” said Rally New Zealand chairman Chris Carr. “It really was a special and highly enjoyable day which attracted fans from all regions around the North Waikato circuit.”
The final day of the 40th running of Rally New Zealand concludes with the two runs around two stages – four in total – near Raglan. The iconic Whaanga Coast, being 29.67 km in length, is likely to prove the deciding test of the 396 km event. Crews return to Auckland to cross the finish ramp at Viaduct Harbour at 3pm Sunday with a stirring finish ceremony, free for all, promising to provide a fitting end to this hard-fought sporting event.
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