02 Aug 08
After a faultless performance through Saturday’s 10 stages, Sebastien Loeb is close to adding his first Rally Finland to his collection of 41 WRC wins tomorrow.
The Citroen Total team driver began the day with a lead of 14.4 seconds over his BP Ford team rival Mikko Hirvonen. But despite running as first car through the loose gravel stages, and being pressured extremely hard by Hirvonen, Loeb kept his cool to end the day with a marginally more comfortable lead of 18.2 seconds.
With three stages and just 40 competitive kilometers left to run, Loeb said Saturday’s thrilling duel with Mikko had kept him 100 per cent committed. “I couldn’t have done any more, it’s been flat out since the first stage,” said Loeb. “It’s been a very, very tough day, and at the end of it my lead has increased by less than four seconds - perhaps we could have slept a bit more today! But it’s been a good fight with Mikko, and I’ve found it hard to keep him behind. But at the moment he will be behind tomorrow and I hope I can keep him there to the finish.”
Hirvonen and Loeb traded stage wins throughout the day but the differences between them were always slim. Hirvonen made no mistakes on the rollercoaster roads, but a stall on the start line of the penultimate test cost him four precious seconds and some concentration on the one that followed. “Maybe I was a little bit too mad afterwards,” explained Hirvonen. “I went wide in a few places and gave a way a bit more time. But overall it’s been a great day. The speed we’ve done is amazing and Seb was pushing as hard as I was. Now the gap is quite big and it’s going to be difficult for me tomorrow unless something happens. But you never know.”
Chris Atkinson is third after an excellent day in his Subaru Impreza WRC2008 during which he made up five places. But such was the pace of the lead pair that Atkinson will start Sunday 2min 45sec behind Hirvonen. “The car has been consistent and working well today,” said Atkinson. “A small issue cost me some time on Friday but now I’m getting into the groove with the new car on these roads. A podium would be great but we want points too - and for that we need to get both cars to the finish. That’s the priority tomorrow.”
Dani Sordo is fourth, just one second behind Atkinson but unhappy with his own performance. “I lost time in the end because I didn’t have a good feeling in the car on these roads,” said Sordo. “I lost confidence in my pace notes and it was really bad.”
Henning Solberg rounds off the top five but like Sordo ended the day frustrated with a dip in his confidence. “I don’t know why but I lost the feeling in the car,” he explained. “It’s impossible to push when it doest feel right. I hope I can find it again tomorrow!”