Rally de Espana turned in Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena’s favour as it moved onto tarmac on day two. After winning two out of this morning’s three stages, the nine-time World Champions grabbed the overall lead in the event.
Featuring a total of 80 kilometres of timed sections on the La Mussara, El Priorat and Riba-roja d’Ebre stages, the first loop looked like it would present a serious test for the drivers, given that almost all of the course was wet.
El Priorat, the rally’s longest stage at just under 46 kilometres, may well have been the turning point of the race. Put under pressure by Sébastien Loeb, the leader Mads Østberg lost around forty seconds after going off. Fastest again on SS9, Seb arrived at the midday service park with an 18.9s lead over Jari-Matti Latvala.
“The day didn’t get off to a great start, because our set-up was suited to the conditions on SS7”, recalled Seb. “After that, we adjusted things well. Mads went off and we took advantage to moved ahead. We can’t rest on our laurels, however, because Jari-Matti is driving really fast and so we’re going to have to push to hold him off.”
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen kept pace with the leading drivers throughout the morning to hold onto their fourth place. But by the day’s half-way stage, the Finns were only 8s adrift of third position overall. “The stages were wet, but the grip was relatively consistent. I had a good feeling in the car and it was handling well in these conditions, especially as we made the right call in terms of tyre choice in opting for soft tyres,” explained Mikko. “I lacked a little bit of bite, but I didn’t lose too much time. We’ll try to catch Mads this afternoon.”
Seventh at the start of the day, Hans Weijs Jr. easily moved up into sixth place. Thierry Neuville, however, had trouble performing as he’d have liked after being hit with brake problems on the first two stages.
Day two continues this afternoon with a second run on the loop’s three stages. The cars are expected to arrive in Salou from 6.15pm onwards.