Loeb Fighting Back

Loeb Fighting BackFrom Citroen Press [ 12/03/2005 ].
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The Citroën team could be forgiven for believing that it is written somewhere that its two Xsaras are forbidden from tasting success simultaneously in Mexico.

Last year, Sébastien's retirement left Carlos Sainz to fly the firm's flag alone, the Spaniard going on to do a very good job of it. This time round, Sébastien Loeb hit trouble as early as Thursday's shakedown before facing further problems on the morning of Leg 1 which dropped him to 14th position overnight after losing more than four minutes. But at that moment François Duval was up with the leading group and looking good for a top result.

But fate was to deal a cruel blow to the Belgian driver today when his run came to an end at the beginning of the afternoon while running in the top-four. Earlier in the day, on SS8 (‘Duarte/Otates 1'), the crew had felt a big knock underneath the car but the incident had no immediate consequences since they were able to complete the following test (SS9, ‘Derramadero/Chichimequillas') at normal speed.

Back at the Leon service park, the car's underbody protection effectively showed signs of the impact and was promptly replaced along with the radiator and the front crossmember. However, on the road section out to the first stage of the day's second loop, the engine temperature began to rise and, after consulting the team, François and Stéphane decided not to start SS10. As permitted by the 2005 regulations, the Xsara was penalised five minutes for each missed special stage, but could attend the evening service. Engineers have undergone thorough checks and pulled out all the stops to allow François to restart tomorrow morning.

With no alternative than to attack today in his bid to salvage some WRC points, Sébastien Loeb started today's action as determined as ever and set the fastest time over ‘El Zauco/Mesa', the morning's first stage. Already used in part on Day 1 in the opposite direction, this test proved reasonably 'clean' but the same can't be said of ‘Duarte/Otates' which was "covered in a sandy top surface," said Seb at the lunchtime service. "The following stage, ‘Chichimequillas', was also difficult with a number of changes in grip although only the middle portion was sandy… We're moving back up the leaderboard but the rally will have to continue until Monday if we want to have a chance of obtaining a good result," quipped the World Champion.

However, Seb's half humoristic, half pessimistic prediction failed to take into account the problems that a number of his rivals would go on to hit. Continuing to push hard during the afternoon running on hard tyres ("a good choice"), Seb went on to post a second best, a third best and then an outright best time over the second loop's three stages and eventually returned to Leon in 6th place. "Some of my rivals have fallen by the wayside and that has obviously helped," he recognised this evening. "Even so, I pushed hard and I am pleased with my day. With yesterday's disappointment behind me, I was very motivated this morning. And as we moved back up the order, that motivation got even stronger. We will see tomorrow whether we succeed in climbing a little further up the leaderboard. The big regret today has been poor François. It's a big shame for the team. The stages are very nice; fast and smooth. You can drive quickly and then you come across a concealed stone that suddenly changes the picture… It's the downside of this rally which is magnificent in all other respects."