16 May 08
After a faultless drive through the first day of the Rally d’Italia Sardegna, Sebastien Loeb of the Total Citroen team holds a healthy overall lead, 35 seconds ahead of the man who holds second place - his team-mate Dani Sordo.
Loeb took the lead on the second of the day’s six stages, taking the place of Jari-Matti Latvala - the early pace-setter - who damaged his car and lost around 90 seconds on SS2.
“It’s been a good day for me, and with Dani in second it’s been good for Citroen too,” Loeb said at the end of day service in Olbia. “We were in a similar situation of course on the last round in Jordan, but hopefully we won’t have a repeat of the problems we had there. The feeling in the car is good, but okay, tomorrow I will be first on the road, and that could be tricky - but I had to push hard today to get as big a lead as possible. I couldn’t wait until the second day to push. I’m satisfied with the lead I have; tomorrow we’ll see if it’s enough.”
Dani Sordo had a largely trouble-free day in the second Total Citroen C4 WRC - his only problem was an intermittent intercom on the last two stages. It’s not been such a bad day,” said Dani. “We had a few intercom issues on the last couple of stages, so it wasn’t too easy to hear Marc [Marti, co-driver] but it wasn’t too serious and we’re okay.”
Eighteen seconds behind Sordo in third place is Petter Solberg of the Subaru World Rally team, who experienced an up and down day in his Impreza. After a morning during which Solberg reported ongoing issues with the ‘feeling’ of his car, tweaks in service improved the situation for the repeat loop, only for brake problems to take the edge off his performance on the last two tests. “This afternoon was much better, the team worked on the dampers in service and everything worked properly,” said Solberg. “I didn’t do anything different inside the car but the speed improved. On the long stage (SS5) we were matching Loeb’s split times but then we had a brake problem and we had to take it carefully. Still, third is okay. I’m happy with that. But tomorrow we have to improve if we’re going to keep the position.”
Current drivers’ championship leader Mikko Hirvonen is fourth but was beaten by Loeb on all of the day’s stages. And while the Finn was disadvantaged as first car on the road in the morning loop, he was unable to explain his lack of competitiveness in the afternoon too. “It’s been a bad day,” said Hirvonen. “I’m pushing hard, the car and the set-up feels good but for some reason the times just aren’t there. If there was one thing I knew was wrong we could look to change that in service tonight. But the fact is I don’t know where we’re losing out. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. Second place is the minimum I need to get out of this rally so I’m going to go absolutely flat out.”
Hirvonen returned to Olbia with a cut to the top of his nose, sustained when a wheel brace flew out of his hands when he was changing a wheel before the final stage. “Like I said; a perfect day,” he shrugged.
Chris Atkinson is fifth in the second Subaru Impreza, but his place is under pressure from Gigi Galli of the Stobart team who ended the day just 3.3sec behind the Australian.
Galli began his home event well, setting the third fastest time on the opening test. But a mistake on the second stage cost him more than a minute to the leaders and dropped him to tenth overall. The Stobart driver’s recovery started on the next stage, however, and a string of top three times - and a fastest on SS4 - moved him back into podium contention.
Jari-Matti Latvala is seventh, and another Ford driver on a salvage mission. Latvala was the quickest driver on the first stage, but went off at the same place as Galli on the next and dropped down to 14th. Like Galli, however, Latvala was back on the recovery trail straight away and he was second fastest on all the remaining stages except the last one (SS6) - which he won. “I’m happy we went well this afternoon, but it’s a shame we had the problem in the morning,” said Latvala. “But I only have to look in the mirror to see the reason for that. I reckon we still have a possibility for a podium here. It’ll be a big battle tomorrow, that’s for sure.”
Henning Solberg is eighth, and found his best form - fourth fastest - on the final stage of the day. Estonian Urmo Aava is ninth in his Citroen C4 WRC, while Toni Gardemeister rounds out the top ten, three seconds back in the leading Suzuki SX4 WRC.