Saturday midday wrap: Ogier on top in Portugal

"We try to continue like this and avoid a puncture"

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By www.wrc.com

26 March 2011 - 14:09
Saturday midday wrap: Ogier on top (...)

Sebastien Ogier leads Vodafone Rally de Portugal by 6.9s following Saturday morning’s opening three stages.

The Citroen driver, the winner in Portugal in 2010, heads Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala with three stages of day two remaining.

But the main talking point so far has been the end-of-stage clash between title rivals Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb.

Hirvonen stopped to change a punctured tyre on stage nine. His delay enabled the pursuing Loeb to close up. When Hirvonen resumed his charge, the dust clouds created by the Finn’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC made it difficult for Loeb to see where he was going. As a result he is 30.7s adrift of team-mate Ogier.

“The only thing I can try to do is close the gap,” said Loeb, who vented his frustration at the end of stage nine by nudging Hirvonen’s rear bumper at the stop control. “We try our best to push hard and if we can close the gap [before the end of today] we will see for tomorrow.”

Hirvonen started day two 11.5s off the lead but his puncture has dropped the world championship leader 2m17.9s from first to fourth and seemingly out of contention for a podium finish.

“It’s a big gap to the boys ahead but if something happens to them then there is something to fight for so I have to pick up more speed in the afternoon,” he said.

New leader Ogier said it was important to blend his speed with caution in the afternoon. “We’ve managed to take a small gap on this one but it’s not a big gap,” said the Frenchman. “We try to continue like this and avoid a puncture.”

Despite dropping out of the lead, Latvala is confident he can hit back in the afternoon: “Hopefully what time we have lost in the morning we won’t lose again. If we can keep it equal in the afternoon then hopefully it will be okay for tomorrow.”

Matthew Wilson demoted M-Sport Stobart team-mate Henning Solberg for fifth with a strong run through stage eight. Solberg reported a “big noise” coming from the rear of his Fiesta after the next run.

Armindo Araujo’s grip on seventh place has been weakened after his mechanics reduced the power output of his MINI John Cooper Works Super 2000 at final service on Friday where they identified an engine glitch. Araujo also reported a build up of dust in his car this morning.

Ex-Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen is now just 7.9s behind Araujo in eighth overall. “The car is right now and feels better, more easy and more normal to drive,” said the Ice 1 Racing Citroen pilot.

Munchi’s driver Federico Villagra is ninth with Team Abu Dhabi’s Khalid Al Qassimi 10th in a similar Fiesta.

Petter Solberg, who restarted on Saturday under SupeRally regulations following his final-stage retirement on Friday due to a spate of punctures, suffered a spin on stage eight. But he hit back by steering his Citroen DS3 WRC to the fastest time on the very next stage.

Mads Ostberg has also resumed his challenge today after stopping on Friday’s opener with a broken gearbox. The Norwegian reported a handling issue at the completion of stage 10.

In the Production Car World Rally Championship, overnight leader Hayden Paddon continues to hold a commanding advantage in his Subaru Impreza. Craig Breen led the WRC Academy after stage nine with Alastair Fisher moving ahead of Egon Kaur for second.

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