Although it may have lacked any twists and turns, day two of the Wales Rally GB enabled the Citroën Total World Rally Team crews to consolidate their positions.
Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are third overall, a few seconds behind Petter Solberg, while Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are still fifth.
Like the first leg, day two began with a long road section to the Builth Wells region. Once there, there was no let up for the competitors, who completed the Crychan, Epynt and Halfway in little over an hour.
Very determined to keep up the pressure on the front two, Sébastien Loeb set the fastest time on Epynt. Picking up where he left off on the next stage, he closed to within 3.9s of Petter Solberg by the end of the morning. “I had set off with four soft tyres and two hard tyres as spares, but the ground hadn’t dried out enough for me take advantage of the spare tyres,” detailed the eight-time World Champion. “The grip was nevertheless better on the last two tests. My tyres took a beating but they held on in there! It seems that we’re more competitive in these conditions. I’m going to keep fighting to try and close the gap to Petter.”
After showing his dismay at the stop control for SS7, Mikko Hirvonen was then all smiles again, as he noted an improvement in his performances at the end of the morning: “I was able to use all six Michelin Latitude Cross soft tyres chosen for this section. I really pushed very hard, perhaps even harder than in Finland! We’re still in it, ready to seize the slightest opportunity.”
With no rain clouds around in the Welsh skies, the sensible tyre choice for the second loop seemed to be a mix of soft and hard Michelin tyres. Although Petter Solberg responded to Sébastien Loeb’s attacks, the no.1 Citroën DS3 WRC driver remained in touch, just 6.4s behind the Norwegian. “I managed my tyres as efficiently as possible during the afternoon,” he commented on his return to Cardiff. “I lost two or three seconds on the second loop, but I’m still in the running for second place. As I often say when I have a bit of a lead on the Saturday evening, the rally isn’t finished yet! And even if I finish third, that wouldn’t be a bad result in terms of the World Championships…”
Mikko Hirvonen, who had preferred to take five soft tyres, also made it to the end of what was a pretty frustrating day: “I did my best, I never stopped pushing. We have to keep working to try and understand why we aren’t quicker in tricky, low-grip conditions. Although I’m thirty or so seconds behind Østberg, I have to keep pushing, because Tänak isn’t that far behind me…”
“Obviously, this wasn’t the day we had hoped for,” concluded Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “There is clearly something that we haven’t understood, but the crews and the technical team are all determined to make progress together in these conditions which we are only experiencing now and again. At the same time, our rivals have had a perfect rally so far. We still have a full day of racing tomorrow in which to improve our positions.”
NEUVILLE AND AL-ATTIYAH AVOID THE PITFALLS
Insofar as the top 13 in the overall standings has remain unchanged since the end of SS5, Thierry Neuville and Nasser Al-Attiyah still lie in 8th and 13th positions respectively. For Thierry and his co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, the day got off to an strange start, with quite a lot of mud splashing into the inside of the no.8 DS3 WRC: “It took a little while to find the hole through which we were getting splashed so unpleasantly… After that, I had to adapt constantly to the changing conditions. As I felt good on the Epynt stage, I pushed a little more and I set good times.”
“Between the fog and the extremely slippery braking areas, it wasn’t always a barrel of laughs this morning,” commented Nasser Al-Attiyah. “On the other hand, I am pleased with the second loop, even though I was slightly hampered by dust kicked up by Paulo Nobre. I have the feeling that I made good progress and my times were pretty pleasing. My aim is to make it to the end of the rally.”