26 Apr 08
After a dramatic second day of competition on the Jordan Rally, the top three WRC drivers are separated by just 10.4sec and the scene is set for a thrilling battle over Sunday’s six stages.
Friday’s overnight leader, Dani Sordo was forced to run first through the slippery gravel stages this morning, while his Total Citroen team mate Sebastien Loeb stormed into the lead over the opening three timed tests.
Loeb said his strategy was to carry enough of a time cushion into day three to compensate for running first through the loose gravel roads of the morning loop. But in a dramatic twist, Loeb’s rally came to a sudden end when his C4 WRC collided with the identical car of Conrad Rautenbach on a two-way liaison section after SS11.
From then on the rally became a three way battle between Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala, his BP-Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen and the remaining Citroen of Sordo - with Sordo disadvantaged by running first on the road. Subaru World Rally Team driver Chris Atkinson and Citroen privateer Urmo Aava filled fourth and fifth positions, but trailed the front runners by almost two minutes.
After a fascinating game of cat and mouse on the afternoon’s four stages, during which Sordo tried his best to slip away from the lead, Ford played their trump card on the final stage. Both leader-elect Latvala and Hirvonen eased their pace over the closing metres of SS16 to ensure that Sordo would have to start first again on Sunday’s stages.
Sunday’s final leg of six special stages is dominated by two potentially treacherous runs through the marathon 41.45km Jordan River stage that skirts the border with Israel. The stage is widely accepted to be the most difficult of the entire event.
After the final stage Sordo said that despite his less than ideal road position he would try his best to keep the lead. “Some rain would help, but that’s pretty unlikely,” he said. “Realistically, I think it’s going to be more difficult to be first on the road tomorrow that it has been today because the long stage has so much gravel on it. The repeat pass should be better, so I’ll just have to hope I do okay in the morning. Anything is still possible..."
In the BP-Ford camp Latvala and Hirvonen said they were anticipating a tough fight on Sunday but were pleased with the way Saturday had turned out.
"We had a pre-event team strategy not to be first on the road tomorrow so I slowed before the finish," said Latvala. "I believe it's the right tactic but it was a strange feeling having to slow the car down. I’d pushed as hard as possible up until then but in the morning I struggled and couldn't respond to Sebastien Loeb's speed. It will be a hard day tomorrow but I need to sleep well and attack hard. When I wake up tomorrow, I want to win this rally so I need to be both careful and very fast.
"With lots of loose gravel on the road surface of tomorrow's stages, my plan was to ensure I didn't start the final day first," said Hirvonen. "Things were made easier for us when Loeb retired. He set incredible times at the front and it seemed as though our plan might not work as he was building a big lead but he had an accident and now things look good. “I'm sure I'll have to fight all day tomorrow. Sordo will be fast on the second pass of the stages when the roads are cleaner, even if he loses time on the first pass, and Jari-Matti will be tough to beat.”