Sebastien Loeb fears his chance of winning this year's Rally New Zealand has passed after he went off the road on the second stage this morning.
The Frenchman had just moved into the lead when he slid off of a long right-hander near the end of the Whaanga Coast stage. This is the second event in succession the 29-kilometre test, which runs along the cliff tops high above the Tasman Sea, has had a significant impact on Rally New Zealand - Ford's hopes of a one-two went south when Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala hit trouble there in 2008. This time around, it was Citroen and Loeb who came unstuck.
"I went off the road, that's it," said Loeb. "It was a long right-hander about three kilometres from the end. There was more gravel than I expected and the car started to understeer and I could not stop.
"This is the only corner of the car I have not hit - it is the same car from Greece last year where I did five rolls. For the win it is too far now but maybe I can do second place. We have had some very good moments on this rally and some very bad ones. This is one of the bad ones."
Citroen Junior Team driver Sebastien Ogier remains in the lead of the event, 5.6 seconds up on Latvala, but the Rally NZ rookie's hopes of a debut win also took a knock this morning.
"I had a spin in the first stage," said Ogier, who opens the road this morning. "It was about halfway through in a right-hand corner. It was a difficult stage, they were both very difficult. Now I'm not sure we can even stay on the podium."
Having started the morning fighting for podium places, Latvala and Petter Solberg are now embroiled in a fight for the lead. Solberg is third, 16.7 seconds behind Ogier.
"I have to just concentrate and do my job," said Latvala. "I'm not going to take any pressure because of this. The first 10 kilometres of Whaanga Coast were really lots of loose gravel, but after that it was okay. The damp sections were quite variable for grip. I saw a section where there were some trees brought to the road in a right-hander - I'm guessing this is where Loeb went off. What a strange rally this is."