01 Mar 08
Sebastien Loeb returned to the midpoint service the new leader of Rally Mexico, but with his closest rival Jari-Matti Latvala less than six seconds behind, both drivers were thinking carefully about what to do on the afternoon’s repeat loop.
With three fresh stages to run on Sunday, none of which will be repeated, the driver who finishes first today will be at some disadvantage as he acts as road sweeper tomorrow. But exactly how much of a disadvantage remains unclear, as does the size of the overnight lead required to negate the cleaning effect.
Another question Loeb was trying to answer was why he was so much more competitive on this morning’s stages compared to those of day one. “It’s been better today but why exactly I do not know,” he said. “We changed the setting a bit on the car to try and find a bit more grip but Jari-Matti is cleaning the road so I think he lost some time with that. How much he lost I don’t know, we’ll find out this afternoon when we’re all in the same conditions. But it’s still really close. At the moment we’ll just try to push as hard as possible and take as much lead as possible and we will see tomorrow. I want to finish first today, but especially tomorrow.”
Latvala said that despite a tricky start he now felt more comfortable as the stage opener. “I didn’t find the right feeling in the morning and I was a little bit bothered, but then the second and third ones were good. On the first one especially the grip level was changing a lot in the braking points. That’s what makes it better for the guys coming behind; the braking points are cleaner. If we could keep the gap like this and then start tomorrow second car on the road it could be quite good. We need to be clever now.”
Chris Atkinson brought his Impreza back to service in third and said he’d be satisfied to keep the position until the end of the rally. “We came here thinking top five would be awesome, so top three would be even better,” he said. “We’re not going slowly but we’re not going to take stupid risks. We’ve got to watch out for Mikko behind us, that’s the main issue.”
Hirvonen, however, said he was already doing his best. “I’ve tried the whole morning but at the moment I just can’t go any faster, he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong but for some reason in many places I’m hesitating; braking, then braking again. But I’ll keep on pushing as hard as I can and hopefully I can find some more speed.”
Henning Solberg holds fifth place overall, 2min 23.2sec behind Hirvonen, while Matthew Wilson is sixth, a further 54 seconds back. Federico Villagra of the Munchi’s team dropped almost four minutes to the leaders on SS11 and is the lowest placed manufacturer team competitor in ninth overall.