Sebastien Loeb holds the lead on Rally New Zealand at the end of Day 2, just 6.4 seconds over his team mate Mikko Hirvonen. and for the 5th 4th time this season Citroen are on the way to another 1-2 finish.
Despite Loebs lead. The Champ seemed a little off pace in the morning of day 2. On SS10, the seconds stage of the day Loeb was only 4th fastest, slower than the likes off Ott Tanak. Fords Jari Matti latvala was fastest on SS10 although he was still in a lonely 8th after his problems on day 1. On the following stage, loeb was even slower, and could only manage 5th fastest. This cut his lead to just 1.7 seconds to Mikko Hirvonen. at Stage end Loeb was adamant that there was no problem with the car, and that the others were just faster than him. This set himself and his team mate up for a great battle. Petter Solberg was the man to come through quickest. Moving the Norwegian up to 3rd place dropping novikov to 4th. Novikov’s main task will now be keeping his M-Sport Ford team-mate Ott Tanak behind him.
Further down the leader board It was an uneventful day so far for Thierry Neuville (Qatar Citroen) and Dani Sordo (Prodrive Mini) in sixth and seventh places. Jari-Matti Latvala has been flying in eighth place, yet seems to be too far behind to catch any of the drivers ahead, with a gap of two minutes even to Sordo. A damper problem cost Armindo Araujo time and saw his Mini start to come under a hint of pressure from the increasingly confident Ken Block’s Monster Ford
After mid-day service Loeb started to creep away once again. He went fastest on the first 2 stages of the afternoon, extending his gap over Mikko Hirvonen to 5.4 seconds and despite latvala being quickest on the following stage, Loeb still furthered his lead to 7.9. Showing his seemingly unbeatable pace once again. But on the final stage of the day, the 26.9km Girls High school stage, Mikko Hirvonen fought back, finishing the day by setting the fastest time of the stage. This meant the Citroen pair ended Day 2 of the rally with just 6.4 seconds between them. “We’ve had a good battle with Mikko [Hirvonen] today,” said Frenchman Loeb. “It’s been difficult this afternoon, very slippery and I really don’t like that Girls High School stage. It’s very technical and I lost about eight seconds there this morning. It’s exciting to have a battle with Mikko and tomorrow I will have to push to keep him behind.” With the Citroen pair heading another 1- 2 finish with a big gap to the next car, its likely Citroen will use team orders to reduce the risk of them two fighting for victory with each other and risk crashing out.
Petter Solberg now sits safely in 3rd, and said earlier in the day that, it will be good to finish the rally on the podium and won’t do anything stupid, or repeat the mistake he made in Greece where he pushed and crashed out. – Because Petter used hard tyres on friday when the others used Softs. That means he will be the only top driver to still have a set of new Soft tyres for Sundays stages. And with the weather expected to be rain on the stages, it could work to his advantage, having said that, its doubtful that it will make up for the loss of time on day 1 when he was on hard’s.
Petter Solberg’s team mate and Factory Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala battled back after yesterday’s off-road excursion to claim two fastest stage times. The driver is eighth going into the rally’s final day. “Today has been okay – we have been working with the set-up of the car and the last two stages have been a lot better for me,” explained 27-year-old Latvala. “Unfortunately my situation is not so great at the moment, but that’s rallying sometimes and I now need to get things together and continue with a positive outlook.”
Novikov is doing a great job in 4th and team mate, M-Sport Ford driver Ott Tanak is fifth after a polished performance at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta RS WRC whilst Citroen Junior driver Thierry Neuville won a cat-and-mouse game with MINI WRC Team’s Dani Sordo to hold sixth. The 24-year-old Belgian now leads Sordo by 18.7s going into day 3. “We had a good fight with Dani, and tomorrow I must concentrate on keeping him behind us. Everything has been working well for us today – the car is feeling a lot better now and we have really enjoyed these stages,” said Neuville.
Rounding off the top ten is Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block who is positively glowing on his return to the WRC. “These are absolutely my favourite stages anywhere in the world,” said the American Gymkhana star at the end of Stage 15.
The final day of Rally New Zealand will challenge the WRC crews with seven special stages that cover 61.33 competitive kilometres.