31 May 08
Total-Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb will start tomorrow’s final day of the Acropolis Rally with a rally lead of 28 seconds after his team-mate Dani Sordo dropped almost six minutes driving the final stage with a puncture.
Loeb employed a perfect strategy for the afternoon loop of stages, taking it steady through the 32km Aghii Theodori test to preserve his tyres for the two that followed.
His team-mate, however, set a faster pace through the long stage but at the cost of two of his tyres. Sordo collected another puncture on SS12 but had no spare left to replace it with. With no option but to drive the final test with a puncture from the start, he lost almost six minutes and dropped to seventh. One small consolation for Sordo is that he managed to get his car back to the service area after the stage.
“I had a feeling that if I went too hard in the first stage I might destroy everything so I didn’t push,” said Loeb. “This afternoon has been the most difficult for the tyres. We lost some pieces of the compound but I still had four good ones for the final stage so it was okay. “Tomorrow it’s going to be exciting to have a fight with Petter, but I do feel sorry for Dani.”
Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg is second, 28sec away from Loeb, and on course to score a fantastic result with the brand new Impreza WRC2008. “It’s incredible to be here,” grinned Solberg at the finish. “We have been taking it so carefully to get to the finish - because that’s still the most important thing. Of course I’ll do my best tomorrow, but my approach is to take it stage by stage. And Henning on the podium too; that’s two brothers - not bad, eh?”
Sure enough Petter’s older brother was third, 36sec back and almost as surprised to be there as Petter. “I’ve never been so happy to be here,” said Henning. “I thought I had a big problem on the last stage so I was just driving slowly, but it’s worked out perfectly. It’s been a very difficult day, but we took it steady and now we’re here!”
Mikko Hirvonen ended the day fourth, almost two minutes behind Henning, but with his eyes on a points finish on Sunday. “We’re going for points now,” said Hirvonen. “But we’ve seen today how quickly things can change; who knows what will happen tomorrow?”
Citroen privateer Urmo Aava holds fifth place overnight after setting a string of top five times throughout the day and a stage win on SS12.
Having started the day twelfth, Matthew Wilson ended it sixth in his Stobart VK Ford Focus. “It’s almost unbelievable,” said Wilson. “But it just goes to show that survival is the big thing here. I knew tyres would be a problem, so I did all I could to protect mine. Apart from one slow puncture we managed to avoid any trouble.”
Behind Sordo in eighth is Jari-Matti Latvala, who dropped out of the battle for the rally lead on SS11. “I was about to start the stage, and switched on the launch control when suddenly I heard the pressure whoosh out as the fresh air pipe for the turbo burst,” said Latvala. “We drove the three stages without boost. It’s a similar situation - although not exactly the same - as the one we had in Mexico. We can fix it tonight and will see what we can do tomorrow.”
Conrad Rautenbach finished ninth in the second privately entered Citroen C4 WRC while Toni Gardemeister rounded off the top-ten in the remaining Suzuki World Rally Team car.