09 May 10
The direction of this year’s Rally New Zealand took another twist this morning when superhero Sebastien Loeb dropped his Citroen C4 WRC on the Whaanga Coast stage.
The Frenchman slipped from first to fourth leaving his countryman Sebastien Ogier out front and defending a slender lead from Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala with two stages to go.
Overnight rain across the Raglan area had left the stages damp, but the day’s opener - Te Hutewai - was still covered in loose gravel. Running first on the Ogier spun in the middle of the stage and was passed by Loeb.
Following the six-time champion’s supersonic progress through Saturday, that move didn’t come as a major surprise. What happened on the second stage did, however. Three kilometres from the end of the stage, Loeb slid off the road.
“I went off the road, that’s it,” said Loeb. “It was a long right-hander about three kilometres from the end. There was more gravel than I expected and the car started to understeer and I could not stop.” Loeb dropped 48.3 seconds getting the car back on the road. The Frenchman now fears his chance of winning this event has gone.
“For the win it is too far now, but maybe I can do second place,” said Loeb, who added that the C4 WRC he was driving was the same chassis as the car he rolled into retirement in Greece last year. “We have had some very good moments on this rally and some very bad ones. This is one of the bad ones.”
With Latvala now just 5.6 seconds behind him, Ogier was far from confident of a debut win in New Zealand. “The win?” he said, “I’m not even sure about the podium now.”
As the drama of the morning unfolded, Latvala tried to take it all in. “This is a little bit crazy,” he said. “This is a very strange rally. I have to just get on with this and do my job. I’m not going to take any more pressure for this, just drive the car.”
Petter Solberg was firmly back in the frame after storming his way through the Coast stage. “Everything is possible now!” said Solberg. “What a morning! Now we’re going to have to push like hell. And, don’t forget, it was damp for a lot of that stage - if it had been dry we could have made a really good time.”
As much as Solberg was looking forward, he will go into the final loop of stages with Loeb just five seconds behind him and Mikko Hirvonen a further two down. Dani Sordo rounds out the top six, 31.4 seconds off the lead.
Although Jari Ketomaa continues to lead the Super 2000 World Rally Championship class, Xevi Pons fears his tenure of second place is coming under threat from Martin Prokop after the Czech set the eighth fastest time overall through Whaanga Coast. “We did not have much grip and now Prokop is coming so we have to concentrate to keep second,” said the Spanish Ford Fiesta driver.
New Zealander Hayden Paddon remains in control in the Production Car World Rally Championship section with Emma Gilmour second and Kingsley Thompson still third.
Rally results links on wrc.com:
Own an iPhone? Then keep up to date when you’re on the move with the World Rally Championship's new app. It’s FREE and can be found on the home page of wrc.com, by searching 'Official WRC app' in iTunes or by following this link .