25 Jan 08
At the end of the second day of Rallye Monte Carlo defending world champion Sebastien Loeb holds a healthy rally lead, 56.6sec ahead of his fellow C4 WRC driver Dani Sordo in second.
The Frenchman made the most of the day's cold and dry conditions, to increase the gap to Sordo by more than 30 seconds, and although there are still two long days remaining, he remains on course for a record breaking fifth Monte Carlo victory.
"Yeah, it's been a good day," said Loeb at the stage end of SS8. "The car is perfect and I'm feeling happy driving too. I knew I had to push harder this morning to get a bit of a cushion, but now I'm satisfied with where I am."
The second day the rally consisted of two identical clockwise loops of three speed tests in the Ardeche region of France, split by a return to Valence for a 30-minute service. In total the special stages covered 116.96km.
Despite clear skies all day, the temperature remained unseasonably warm at between 7 and 11 degrees Celsius. In contrast to the freezing conditions of Thursday night, Friday's stages were generally dry with slippery damp patches, but no ice.
Citroen's Dani Sordo started the day as Loeb's closest challenger and so far he is the only other driver to take a stage win. But a differential problem that occurred on SS6 left his C4 WRC feeling like a two-wheel drive car for the remaining stages.
Sordo's problems allowed third placed Mikko Hirvonen to close in, and over the three repeated stages Hirvonen clawed back 15 seconds of the Spaniard's advantage. Hirvonen will start Saturday's third day of competition just 26 seconds behind Sordo. "I got a bit closer today so now I'm going to try and keep the pressure on, said Hirvonen. "Tomorrow could be even better; we'll just have to see."
Chris Atkinson holds fourth place overnight after a solid day at he wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2007. The Australian set the third fastest time on two stages in the afternoon and is hoping his good run will continue tomorrow. "Last year we had a couple of stage wins on the roads we'll be driving tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to it," he said.
Francois Duval lies in fifth place and is the leading Stobart Ford entry. Competing with new co-driver Eddy Chevailler, Duval spent much of the day locked in a close battle with Chris Atkinson. His best performance came on SS6, when he was second fastest, but he finished the day disappointed with his performance. "It's not so bad, but the last two stages were not so great. My pace notes haven't been so good and I didn't want to take too many risks. I'm still getting used to things," he said.
Sixth-placed Petter Solberg dropped time on SS6 when his car's engine lost power, and he stalled on the start line of SS7 and SS8, but otherwise the Norwegian had a trouble-free day.
Elsewhere, Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala set about regaining the time lost on day one, when they stopped to change a wheel on their Focus RS. The Finn restarted in 18th place but a string of top 10 stage times enabled him to move steadily up the leaderboard to return to service in ninth - a potential points-scoring position.
The only manufacturer team retirement was Khalid al Qassimi of the BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, who crashed out on the very last corner of SS6. As long as the damage is not too extensive, Al Qassimi will rejoin the rally on day three under SuperRally regulations.