Loeb & Xsara Set the Pace Leg 2

Loeb & Xsara Set the Pace Leg 2From Citroen Press [ 09/04/2005 ].
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Take 2…! To the delight of everyone in the Citroën team, the story of Rally New Zealand's second leg was practically identical to that of Day 1, with Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara more or less level pegging with their direct rivals during the morning's loop before pulling clear in the second to extend their lead over their immediate chasers to around the minute mark.

François Duval and Stéphane Prévot began Saturday's action in 3rd place and, as announced, stuck to their own pace which was sufficiently quick to keep a firm hold on 4th position but also to keep them within striking distance of the leading trio.

Like yesterday, six of today's eight stages were based in the Kaipara region. Each of the two loops of three tests included two that were run both in the morning and afternoon (the short ‘Cassidy' test and the long ‘Bull' stage) plus a third 'one-off' stage…

After posting fastest times through ‘Wairere' (SS9) and ‘Cassidy 1' (SS10), Sébastien was forced to settle for the third best time - 4.5s down - in ‘Bull 1'. "I had something of a moment a third of the way into this stage," related the Citroën driver. "I braked too late for a fourth-gear right-hander and I went wide, with the rear trailing in the ditch. So as not to send the car into a spin, I kept my foot hard to the floor and opposite-locked but the backlash as I pulled clear of the ditch sent me into the opposite side ditch. After another visit to the left-hand ditch, I finally managed to get the car back in line…. Then I slowed it down a little until the end of the stage." By the end of the morning, the French crew had pulled a further 0.5s clear of Petter Solberg and a further 10.8s clear of Marcus Grönholm.

Again like yesterday, Sébastien opted to fit hardest compound Michelin tyres for the afternoon's loop which was run in bright sunshine. After a relatively cautious run through ‘Waipu Caves' (SS12), the rally leader upped his pace through ‘Cassidy 2' and ‘Bull 2'. "The surface had been swept clean during the first run and my wear-resistant, hard compound tyres allowed me to corner hard. They were great. When I saw the split times showing that I was pulling clear of my rivals, I decided to push hard."

"It really was maximum attack," confirms Daniel Elena. "But perfectly clean mind, and no mistakes!" At the following service back in Auckland, Seb and Daniel had every reason to be pleased since their cushion over Marcus Grönholm had extended to 51,9s and over Petter Solberg to 58,7 s.

Consistently 3rd or 4th in terms of stage times, François Duval's only problem concerned his brakes in ‘Bull 2'. "I began to lose the brakes 10 km from the finish and I did the last 8 km with the pedal to the floor." This technical problem was the day's only upset for Guy Fréquelin: "Where I was watching, halfway into the day, François was up on Marcus and Petter and he still bagged the third best time. We know that François asks a lot of his brakes. The very high quality pads used on his car are also the pads that wear out the quickest… We need to solve this problem and go further down the road of adapting the car to his driving style in order to enable him to attack freely."

Back in Auckland, it was show time for the local population with two runs through the Manukau super-special. Meanwhile, tomorrow's menu of four stages (87 km) includes the legendary ‘Whaanga Coast' test as the route strikes south to the Raglan region.