WRC Saturday wrap: Loeb leads, but Solberg fastest
Sebastien Loeb continues to lead Rally Bulgaria at the end of the second day, but all eyes were on another Citroen C4 WRC this afternoon as Norwegian Petter Solberg dominated the timesheets to win each of the three stages.
The Citroen Total World Rally Team had been warned of potential storms on the stages this afternoon and rather than risk being caught out on an unsuitable hard compound Pirelli tyre, the French squad elected to send Loeb out on soft rubber. In the end, the rain didn’t arrive, but the six-time champion made it safely back to service - and with an extended advantage over team-mate Dani Sordo.
Sordo ran with hard tyres at the front of his C4 and soft compound at the back. The compromise made it tricky for the Spaniard to fend off Solberg’s advances. He departed service with a 26.8-second advantage and returned just 4.7 seconds ahead of the 2003 world champion.
At the head of the field, Loeb was relaxed about his position. “Everything is perfect,” he said. “The tyre was not the right choice, but it was the safe choice for me this afternoon. It made sense to do this. The tyre worked well, it was moving about and that changed the handling of the car a little, but it was okay, I could adapt to it.”
Sordo wasn’t quite so relaxed about the diminishing gap between steps two and three of the provisional podium.
“We had some understeer from the car running it with the tyres like this,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but if the rain had come we could have made the advantage - we were carrying two spare soft tyres. It’s just a shame the rain didn’t arrive.”
Asked if he was confident for the final-day fight with Solberg, he replied: “I’m looking forward to the battle, it’s always interesting to fight.”
Solberg was on top form after his string of scratch times, but he insisted he wouldn’t be getting carried away. “We’ve got to remember that a podium result is the thing I am chasing here. I’m not going to go mad - but it’s been a good afternoon. We made some changes to the suspension at service mid-way through today and I have the real confidence in the car now. I could go fast before, but now I can fly.”
Click : wrc.com/saturday wrap
J-WRC Saturday wrap: Neuville in control in JWRC battle
Thierry Neuville holds a commanding overnight lead of the Junior World Rally Championship section of Rally Bulgaria.
With four stages remaining on Sunday, the 22-year-old from Belgium heads Dutchman Hans Weijs by 51 seconds as he closes in on his first victory in the young driver category.
Neuville, who took the class lead from Mathieu Arzeno with a rapid time through Saturday’s first stage, enjoyed an almost trouble-free day in his Citroen C2 Super 1600, although the loss of brakes and a wild slide on today’s final test caused him some concern.
“I made a good start and I think [Mathieu] Arzeno felt the pressure after that,” said Neuville. “I don’t feel any pressure - I just need to keep my lead and avoid any mistakes. Winning tomorrow would be very important for me after not scoring on the first two rounds.”
Arzeno, who topped the J-WRC standings after day one, lost time with a puncture on Saturday’s second stage before he crashed into a wall two stages later and damaged his C2’s rear suspension to the extent he was unable to continue.
His misfortune promoted Weijs into second place, despite the Dutchman’s co-driver, Bjorn Degandt, losing his voice on the day’s first stage, which forced Weijs to drive much of the 27.46-kilometre Sestrimo stage without the benefit of pacenotes. His C2 was also struck down by an alternator glitch, which he managed to rectify in time for the final stage.
Click: wrc.com/saturday JWRC wrap