Loeb extends lead on day two

Loeb extends lead on day twoFrom Citroen Press [ 14/02/2009 ].
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Overnight leaders Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena profited from the second day of the 2009 Rally Norway to put in a perfectly paced run which has seen them extend their margin at the top of the provisional leaderboard. The five-time World Champions claimed five of the day’s fastest times with their Citroën C4 WRC as they pulled progressively clear of their pursuers. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti are fifth overall this evening.

The icy stages of Rally Norway’s second leg, which took crews to the Lillehammer region, home to the 1994 Winter Olympics, were noticeably different in style to Friday’s slower, narrower tests.

As overnight leaders, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena faced the tough prospect of running first on the road all day, but the five-time World Champions simply knuckled down to the job in hand to produce a perfect run over the morning’s loop. A score of four fastest times from four saw them extend their advantage over Mikko Hirvonen to 10.7 seconds. "We were pretty sure that being first on the road this morning wouldn’t be a handicap, so we pushed as hard as we could to try to pull out a gap; it was the only option we had," observed Sébastien at the midday service halt in Hamar.

"We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves with our C4 WRC. These stages are superb and the conditions are excellent. I would even go as far as to say that this is the finest winter rally we have ever contested!" The Citroën pair was nonetheless aware that the second visit to the same stages was likely to be a little more challenging: "We will probably need to sweep aside the snow dragged onto the ideal line by other runners first time round. I will no doubt have to adapt the way I drive."

Although still fourth overall, Dani Sordo was a little more guarded at this point in the proceedings: "I stalled twice on SS10, once at the start and a second time in a hairpin. That cost me about half a minute. I also dropped time on SS12, primarily because we were running without the rear anti-roll bar, but also because I really wasn’t in the rhythm. I’m still having trouble through the narrower portions. I just need to hang on in there and stay on the road to try to make sure of scoring points for Citroën…"

As expected, Sébastien and Daniel didn’t dominate in the same way during the afternoon’s loop, although they still managed to increase their cushion over Mikko Hirvonen. They rounded off their performance with their fifth fastest time of the day on the leg’s final test through parkland in Hamar. "That turned out to be quite difficult; I had to fight with my car to stay on the road," recognised Sébastien Loeb, "but to have succeeded in increasing our lead in these conditions is all the more satisfying. It’s looking good for tomorrow, but the organisers have kept the longest leg of the weekend for the end."

Dani Sordo and Marc Marti completed the afternoon in fifth place thanks to a more consistent drive. "I feel that I made progress this afternoon, but I wasn’t able to ward off Henning Solberg who was setting times on a par with those of the two front-runners. We’ll see if we can’t pass him again tomorrow," commented Dani Sordo.

"Sébastien did an extraordinary job today, very similar to the performance he put in last year in Finland," said Olivier Quesnel. "Two years ago, Mikko Hirvonen took an emphatic win on this rally ahead of Marcus Grönholm and Sébastien. This year, all the stage times have been improved and that, I believe, speaks volumes for the ferocity of the scrap that’s going on out there. That said, a lead of just 15 seconds is nothing with 126km of competitive action still to come tomorrow. Fighting on two fronts at the same time could be dangerous, so we’ve asked Dani to hold position and try to reach the finish. If he sees a chance to grab back fourth place, that will be fine, but it won’t be a priority."