17 Apr 10
Citroen star Sebastien Loeb will take a 16.2 second lead into the final day of the Rally of Turkey, after Sebastien Ogier was deprived of the advantage that he had held since the third stage by a puncture.
Ogier ran first on the road today but still managed to maintain his position at the head of the field, despite sweeping the stages clean for his rivals. The 2008 Junior World Rally Champion’s impressive run suffered a major setback on SS15, when his tyre instantly deflated at 170kph, pitching the Frenchman off the road and damaging the front-left corner of his car.
The incident cost Ogier more than three minutes and dropped him from first to fifth. This put Loeb, who had been steadily making his way up the leaderboard from fourth at midday service, into the lead.
The six-time World Rally Champion made the most of the asphalted portions of the afternoon’s loop of four stages to home in on the leaders. In the morning Loeb, along with the other factory Citroen drivers, had chosen to use part-worn tyres on the loop in order to maximise grip on the asphalt parts of the stage. In the afternoon he used new tyres all round: the choice that Petter Solberg had made in the morning to extremely good effect.
“It was definitely better with the new tyres,” said Loeb. “The balance of the car was much more natural, even though it was gravel tyres on an asphalt surface. I was also pleased with my driving; we did a good job and tried to be easy with the car. The last stage was destroyed but it was not as bad as I had feared.”
Solberg was second overnight after another strong performance, but he cannot afford to relax as he has the factory Ford of Mikko Hirvonen only 1.1 seconds behind him. The Finn also opted for new tyres on the mixed stages and was able to match the pace of the leaders. Crucially, he will start from third on the road tomorrow - which may give him an advantage over the final six stages.
“Everything’s still possible,” he said. “The stages are quite fast tomorrow, which means they will not clean as much, but we’re going to be trying our hardest.”
The pressure is on Hirvonen not to make any mistakes, after his team mate Jari-Matti Latvala rolled in the morning and dropped out of the top 10. Hirvonen also has to deal with the challenge of the second factory Citroen of Dani Sordo, only 5.1 seconds behind him.
Former F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen enjoyed his best day yet behind the wheel of a rally car, setting consistent top 10 times to end up sixth overall: the highest position he has ever run in on a World Championship event.
American star Ken Block went off on the last stage of the day, getting stuck on a bank, while Estonia’s Ott Tanak - the leading Pirelli Star Driver - has maintained his impressive pace by holding onto ninth overall in his Group N Mitsubishi Lancer.
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