Unbeatable in the rain and dominant on the stage through Baumholder military base, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena extended their lead substantially on day two of the ADAC Rallye Deutschland.
Some 1m 42s clear of their nearest challengers, the eight-time World Champions can look forward to a ninth win at this event in a reasonably relaxed frame of mind. The day was positive for Citroën Total World Rally Team overall, as Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen moved back up into third place.
As had been the case yesterday, the leg began with a question mark regarding tyre choice. The Citroën DS3 WRCs set off from the service park with ‘hard’ Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, as the forecast indicated that conditions would be dry. However, a few kilometres after the start of ‘Stein & Wein’, rain began to fall on the stage. First on the road, Sébastien Loeb fared better than his rivals: “I only had rain from around the fifteen kilometre mark and I benefitted from a clean racing line. That’s another reason why it’s good to be leading after the first leg. I nonetheless remained cautious, because there was already quite a bit of aquaplaning.” At the end of SS7, the Frenchman’s lead over Petter Solberg had gone from 20s to 41s.
After completing the next stage, equally in wet conditions, the competitors enjoyed a short remote service period in Birkenfeld. The purpose of this stop was to enable competitors to choose the tyres for the Arena Panzeplatte stage, a winding 46km-long test on the concrete roads of the Baumholder military base. As the risk of rainfall remained high, Seb opted for soft tyres. Once again, this stage proved decisive in determining the outcome of the rally. A broken wheel for Solberg, a puncture for Sordo and an off for Neuville: there was drama all around as Seb took the stage win.
In the overall standings, Loeb enjoyed a comfortable lead of one and a half minutes over his closest challenger, Jari-Matti Latvala. Meanwhile, Mikko Hirvonen moved up into the final podium spot: “This morning was full of drama, but I managed to stay out of trouble and we moved up the overall standings. At the same time, I feel I’m making progress so it’s been positive all round.”
A service period back at the main park in Trier enabled the competitors to take a breather before heading off for a second run on the stages. This time, rain did not disrupt proceedings. Pushing just a fraction less than before, Seb nonetheless managed to extend his lead slightly over Latvala. Yet again, the Arena Panzerplatte stage proved fatal for several leading drivers, the most prominent being Ott Tänak, who had been running in fourth place.
Back at the base, Sébastien Loeb enjoyed the cheers from the crowd gathered to support him: “We’ve had another great day! On Baumholder, I was the fastest on both runs, but I didn’t really push. It’s not worth it: if you push too hard at the start, the tyres get worn very quickly and you have to ease off at the end. It’s better to adopt an even pace which means you can stay clear of the worst of the trouble… At the same time, the guys who came after us made mistakes and so the gap widened. We just have to finish the job tomorrow, so everything’s looking good.”
Still third overall, Mikko Hirvonen also felt that the day had gone well: “Most of all, I’m pleased to have improved my driving on tarmac. I was a bit lucky, but you also need to be consistent if you want to get a good result. My aim will be to hold onto third position tomorrow.”
AL-ATTIYAH MOVES BACK INTO THE POINTS
Among those caught out by the Arena Panzerplatte stage, Thierry Neuville went off on the first run: “I went off on a corner marked as ‘flat out’ in the notes, but which unexpectedly lifted the car off the ground. I could have carried straight on and into a field but there were spectators. We hit a tree and that broke the radiator. It’s true that I was pushing quite hard. The team had asked me to put pressure on the Fiestas. Obviously, I’m disappointed because I definitely had a chance of making it onto the podium. We’ll be back to compete in the final leg tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Nasser Al-Attiyah had an error-free day, which enabled him to move up into eighth overall: “There are undoubtedly a lot of tricky sections on this rally. I was careful and I am pleased to still be in the rally this evening. And most of all, I’m learning! That was my main goal for this weekend. Obviously, I’ll be pleased if I can score some points tomorrow, but it’s my progress which is the most important to me.”
After going off in the same place as Ott Tänak, Peter Van Merksteijn Jr. retired from the rally when running ninth position. The Dutch driver will not rejoin the race tomorrow.