SÉBASTIEN LOEB ROLLS BACK THE YEARS!
Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena produced another masterful display today, making a mockery of their lack of recent experience on wet tarmac as the pair remained locked in a tight battle for the podium places, whilst Craig Breen and Scott Martin ended the day in ninth position after they lost time with a couple of spins. Meanwhile, Khalid Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson ended day two in nineteenth position, having focused on learning to cope with the tricky, low-grip conditions, with which they are relatively unfamiliar.
Whereas usually the gaps on the Catalan tarmac stages are very small, the rain forecast on today's second leg (121.80km over seven stages) suggested the crews were in for an incident-packed day, where tyre choice might prove decisive.
Having not competed at a rally in the wet for five years, Sébastien Loeb initially called upon his immense experience this morning as he got used to the conditions again, despite not really having the right tyre set-up (five Michelin soft slicks). Once he had got his bearings, the nine-time world rally champion decided to keep the same tyres for the afternoon, despite the roads varying from damp and slippery to totally soaked. Yet again, he displayed his incredible ability to adapt to the conditions! He moved up to third place with a stage win on SS12 (21.26km) as the battle raged around him for the drivers' title, ending the day just 3.3s behind the second-placed driver and 8.0s off the leader with just the short final leg to go.
Having made a good start on the opening stage of the day, if the promising split times are anything to go by, Craig Breen unfortunately damaged his spoiler in a spin, which prevented him from fully expressing himself on the morning's next speed test. After finishing ahead of his team-mate on the first test of the afternoon, suggesting he was on course to make up some lost ground, the Irishman had another spin (SS12), leaving him in ninth position at the end of day two.
Unfamiliar with the tricky, low-grip conditions, rarely seen in his previous appearances on the Catalan tarmac, Khalid Al Qassimi concentrated on keeping out of trouble and acquiring experience, ending the leg in nineteenth place.
With just over twelve seconds between the top five crews, tomorrow's final leg – equally contested on tarmac but on narrower, twistier roads – is set to provide a spectacular climax to this thrilling event. The final day features four stages, contested over 61.70km, with the weather expected to remain changeable…
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
"Although obviously we know all about his talent and his incredible record, Sébastien still manages to surprise us, both with his ability to adapt to conditions and situations and his ability in analysing the level of grip! He produced yet another magnificent performance today and I think we can be sure he'll be totally committed tomorrow. Craig also showed genuine pace, providing further evidence of the competitiveness of our C3 WRC, but he was caught out a couple of times by the conditions, which were really difficult today. "
"Obviously, I'm pleased with my day, even though it was stressful and pretty complicated because we had expected the roads to dry out more.But I'm pleased with my driving, although it took me a bit of time to get back into the swing of things this morning. I gave it my all throughout the leg, without making any mistakes despite the really tricky conditions. We're still right in the mix and that's the main thing. We're going to keep pushing because it's so tight at the front that anything can happen."
"We haven't had the day we were hoping for, even though the pace was there again. Unfortunately, our two spins have proven very costly. But I'm going to give it everything to try and finish on a positive note tomorrow."
Khalid Al Qassimi
"It was quite tricky this morning, driving in the wet on soft slicks. I was more comfortable this afternoon with rain tyres, even though the mud in places didn't make my job any easier. I'm pleased to have avoided making any mistakes and I feel like I have learned more things today."
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2
- Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:35:01.8
- Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4.7
- Loeb / Elena (Citroën C3 WRC) +8.0
- Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +9.8
- Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +12.7
- Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +16.5
- Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +46.5
- Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:00.7
- Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:37.9
- Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:07.3
19. Al Qassimi / Patterson (Citroën C3 WRC) +17:52.6