Sebastien hangs on to Rally New Zealand lead as Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen pushes
|Friday, June 22nd 2012, 23:43 GMT|
Sebastien Loeb continues to lead Rally New Zealand halfway through leg two, but cannot shake off Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen.
On Saturday's first two stages it looked like Loeb would quickly put the rally beyond Hirvonen's reach, as the reigning World Rally champion rapidly established an eight-second lead.
But on the muddy surface of SS11, the distinctively named Girls High School, Hirvonen was able to carve back into Loeb's lead and get the gap down to 1.7s heading for service.
Petter Solberg was fastest on two of the morning's three stages, and that helped move the factory Ford past M-Sport Ford driver Evgeny Novikov into third place. Novikov's M-Sport team-mate Ott Tanak is now eyeing the Russian's fourth. Thierry Neuville (Qatar Citroen) and Dani Sordo (Prodrive Mini) remain sixth and seventh.
In the second works Ford, Jari-Matti Latvala has recovered to eighth following his Friday mistake, but is now two minutes adrift of next target Sordo.
Behind Latvala, a damper problem has dropped Armindo Araujo's Motorsport Italia-run Mini away from Latvala and closer to Ken Block (Monster Ford), who has now escaped from series returnee Manfred Stohl's Brazil Ford.
Leading positions after SS11: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 2h45m24.5s 2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen + 1.8s 3. Petter Solberg Ford + 1m26.0s 4. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford + 1m40.1s 5. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford + 1m51.9s 6. Thierry Neuville Qatar Citroen + 2m22.4s 7. Dani Sordo Prodrive Mini + 2m46.6s 8. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 4m55.4s 9. Armindo Araujo Portugal Mini + 6m33.9s 10. Ken Block Monster Ford + 7m26.4s