Loeb dominates early on in Cyprus
|By Matt Beer||Friday, March 13th 2009, 09:25 GMT|
Sebastien Loeb has established a 22-second lead through the first three stages of the Cyprus Rally, as he bids to make an early break from the field.
The world champion declared before the rally that he wanted to pull out as big an advantage as possible on the asphalt stages of day one so that he could try and defend his lead when running first on the gravel roads of Saturday and Sunday.
He put that plan into action this morning by winning SS1 with a 13s margin, and then stretching that lead further through SS2 and SS3, which took place in dry conditions as the anticipated rain held off.
"I was pushing really hard in the first stages because I know I cannot do any strategy for tomorrow, so I'll just try to have a big lead," said Loeb.
"If it's dry tomorrow and Sunday, 30s will not be enough. If it's wet, it could be okay. So I don't know, I'll try to push, not think about anything yet, and just go flat-out."
Loeb's Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo currently holds second. He had been under pressure from Ford duo Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala at first, but poor times from the two Finns on SS3 saw them complete the loop 19.5 and 23.9s behind Sordo respectively - leaving Hirvonen downcast.
Petter Solberg completes the initial top five in his self-run Citroen Xsara. The former champion had battled with Citroen Junior's Sebastien Ogier early on, gaining fifth when the Frenchman lost time in SS3.
The Junior WRC drivers had been expected to star in the early stages as, unlike the WRC and Production cars, they are able to run asphalt tyres today. Martin Prokop and Michal Kosciuszko fulfilled this prediction by running seventh and eighth overall after SS2, on which Prokop had been fourth fastest, but both slipped back on SS3, where the coating of gravel on the surface negated their tyre advantage.
That allowed Evgeny Novikov (Citroen Junior) up to seventh, just 1.4 seconds ahead of Matthew Wilson in the remaining Stobart Ford. His team-mate Henning Solberg has already retired after a collision with a road car on the way to SS1.
Armindo Araujo is half a minute clear of Patrik Sandell in the Production class, while Prokop now has a massive lead in the Junior standings after Kosciuszko dropped two minutes with dire tyre troubles near the end of SS3.
Leading positions after SS3:
Pos Driver Car Time 1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 48:44.4 2. Dani Sordo Citroen + 22.5 3. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 42.0 4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 46.4 5. Petter Solberg Citroen +1:19.3 6. Sebastien Ogier Citroen +1:28.5 7. Evgeny Novikov Citroen +2:01.8 8. Matthew Wilson Ford +2:03.2 9. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen +2:24.9 10. Federico Villagra Ford +2:33.8