Jari-Matti Latvala admits Sebastien Loeb can't be caught in the battle for first place on RallyRACC-Rally de Espana, which switched to all-asphalt stages today following the mainly gravel tests on Friday.
Citroen’s nine-time world champion has outpaced Ford driver Latvala for much of day two and starts Sunday’s six closing stages of the FIA World Rally Championship season finale with an advantage of 27.0s.
“I can’t catch him,” said Latvala. “I’m not disappointed, that’s the way it is. He’s fantastic on Tarmac. I need to work more and learn.”
Loeb, who is contesting his last event as a full-time WRC driver, said: “It’s been a good day for me, quite tricky condition in the first loop with wet roads and slippery in some places. There was a lot of gravel on the road and a risk of puncture but, okay, no problem. At the moment I am feeling well in the car. Jari-Matti was pushing very hard at the start of the day but for me the feeling was really good so I continued to push.”
Mads Ostberg began Saturday’s first test leading by 27.2s following a hugely impressive showing on Friday’s rain-hit mainly gravel stages. But his challenge would soon unravel when he opted to use a combination of hard and soft compound tyres in a diagonal formation for the first run through the damp El Priorat on Saturday morning where he suffered a time-consuming off.
And there was more frustration in the afternoon due to set-up issues, which caused the Norwegian to struggle for performance in his privateer Fiesta. He is now 1m31.4s of top spot in fifth overall, which could have a huge bearing on his efforts to beat Latvala to third place in the final championship standings.
Ott Tanak completed a strong afternoon by winning stage 12, a result that puts him 14.7s behind Mikko Hirvonen, who holds third overnight in the second factory Citroen. Behind Ostberg, Hans Weijs remains on course to score WRC points in sixth place on his first run in a World Rally Car.
Super 2000 World Rally Championship leader Craig Breen is seventh with Evgeny Novikov eighth and Jarkko Nikara ninth after a handful of moments in his Prodrive MINI in the afternoon, which included a spin on stage 11 and contact with a barrier on stage 12. P-G Andersson completes the top 10 for PROTON, one place ahead of WRC Team MINI Portugal’s Chris Atkinson.
Following a frustrating morning when his MINI’s engine dropped onto three cylinders, Dani Sordo fought back in the afternoon with two fastest stage times after his Prodrive team restored the car to full working order at midday service by replacing a faulty injector.
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SWRC saturday wrap:
A trouble-free run throughout day two of RallyRACC-Rally de Espana has helped Craig Breen move one step closer to being crowned the winner of this year's FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship.
With a lead of 3m19.6s over Sweden’s P-G Andersson (pictured left with Breen) starting Sunday’s final six stages, the Irishman is seemingly in control at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta S2000.
“I’ve been coasting around and if I could go any slower I would,” said the 22-year-old. “Everything has gone according to plan today and although it’s been hairy out there on the stages we’ve been taking things very carefully. There’s quite a bit of pressure not to make a mistake and every little noise makes me panic that there might be something wrong. Now I just need to keep my fingers crossed we can get to the finish with no problems.”
PROTON driver Andersson dropped out of contention for victory with a broken driveshaft and an off on Friday. He’ll need Breen to falter to stand any chance of capturing the crown.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi, meanwhile, can also take the title having restarted under Rally 2 when turbo failure put him out on day one. “We just need to keep the concentration going,” said Al-Rajhi, who is more than 10 minutes behind Andersson. “We had no problems today and it’s good that we are third even after our retirement yesterday. Now we just need to drive safely tomorrow and hope that we make no mistakes.”
After a strong performance at the wheel of a second PROTON, Britain’s Alastair Fisher holds fourth following his restart this morning. Rounding off the top five is Hayden Paddon, who returned to the action after going off on Friday. The New Zealander has set several impressive stage times during the course of today.
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