13 Jun 08
The top three drivers began Friday’s penultimate stage thinking hard about how to secure the best road position on Saturday, and especially how to avoid the leader’s dubious privilege of driving first and sweeping the roads clean for those behind.
Before the stage, rally leader Mikko Hirvonen said he would be happy to stay first providing he had a 40 second lead, but with the gap to Latvala just 9.3sec after SS7 he accepted this was unlikely to happen through speed alone.
Hirvonen pledged to push hard regardless and acknowledged his limited strategic options. “My road position means everyone except Loeb starts after me and has an advantage if tactics come into play,” he said.
In fact Gigi Galli was the fastest driver through SS8, the first pass through the 16km Chimera, with fellow Ford Focus driver Henning Solberg second.
Latvala was the fastest of the leading trio, three seconds slower than Galli but more than seven seconds quicker than Hirvonen. The time moved him just two seconds off Hirvonen’s rally lead. “I don’t want to be first on the road tomorrow but I’m happy with my driving on that stage,” Latvala said at the finish control.
Hirvonen, however, was frustrated with his own pace. “I’m not happy with my time at all,” he said. “The second half was okay but we struggled at the beginning and I just don’t understand why.”
Sebastien Loeb was sixth fastest and dropped behind Gigi Galli into fourth overall. “The first part of the stage was fine, I was only sweeping on the second half,” he said. “I’d be happy to finish the day in this position but we’ll have to wait until the end of the day to see where we are. You never know. Something might happen and I’ll end up first...”