Flying Loeb the stuff of rally legend

Another recycled article from the old Exposures Online Website archives originally published 10th May 2010

S LoebOn Friday, he lost his door. Yesterday, as Petter Solberg ruefully put it, Sebastien Loeb drove as if he’d lost his mind.

The leader after day one of the New Zealand round of the World Rally Championship, Solberg couldn’t have said anything more meaningful at the end of Friday’s press conference.

He warned that Loeb “would leave his brain in the service area and it will be a maximum attack … expect incredible times from him.”

Solberg was right. For the second day in a row, the flying Frenchman made all the headlines.

On Friday, he lost control of the rear end of his Citroen and smacked into a bridge railing, destroying the left-hand door. Loeb lost 1m 21s and dropped to eighth, about 1m 40s behind the leaders.

He started yesterday seventh on the road but, by service, had taken a chunk of time from the leaders.

After three morning stages, he’d reduced the deficit to just 1.8s behind fifth-placed Mikko Hirvonen and 38.5s behind the leader.

By the end of the day, he was just 5.1s off the lead behind fellow Frenchman Sebastien Ogier, having made up over a minute and a half over a day and a half and 1m 14s yesterday.

From losing a door one day, to opening the door to success the next – this was the stuff of rally legend.

Loeb’s effort in making up that amount of ground during a single day’s racing is rarely seen in today’s hi-tech rallying where increments are gained minutely; painstakingly.

Even Loeb saw his day’s work as something special.

“I think it was my greatest rally day, it was incredible,” said a happy Loeb. “We drove flat out everywhere in every stage. It’s incredible when you can make up time like that. It really was my best day of rallying.

“I always try and go as fast as possible. I was taking more risks first on the road Friday [when he was acting as a kind of gravel-sweeper for following cars] than I was today. It was motivating today to see the difference reduce during the day.

“I went flat out trying to make up the gap. It was really good, difficult to stay concentrating and knowing you can’t make a mistake because you’re going flat out. But I am very happy.”

During the first pass in the morning, through Te Akau Coast, Loeb was on the ragged edge with no room for error.

Said team-mate Dani Sordo: “It’s what we have come to expect from Sebastien, it’s just what he does.”

Meanwhile, early leader Solberg is now in fourth place.

“I was looking forward to it but, when I saw the stage, there was too much gravel, not like yesterday. And in stage 12 there was even more gravel and if I backed off so did everyone else. Loeb was just going fast back in seventh and making up time,” said Solberg.

In the afternoon, Loeb continued to cut a swathe through the field, almost taking time at will during each stage; heading to the final run through Hampton Downs before the trip back to Auckland.

The other drivers will be scratching their collective heads to come up with a cunning plan to halt Loeb’s march towards another win. He will start second on today’s final assault on Kiwi roads behind Ogier.

In third will be a frustrated Jari-Matti Latvala. “I am disappointed. I drove as well as I can. Third is all right but we need to do something, we are losing too much time.”

Ogier will have one eye in the mirror to see how fast and how soon Loeb will attack.

“I pushed as hard as I could during the day. I think it will hard for me to be faster than today,” said Ogier.

Tucked in behind Latvala are Sordo, Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen.

Hayden Paddon remained on course, continuing to lead the PWRC class with fellow New Zealanders Chris West and Dean Summer just behind.

Paddon, West and Summer are on top of the PWRC table and in 15th, 16th and 17th respectively overall with Emma Gilmour poised 7s back in 18th. The leading Kiwi to that stage, Mark Tapper came unstuck during stage 15 when he put his car on his roof and had to retire.

“It’s been a good couple of days and we’ve kept our noses clean,” said Paddon.

“We haven’t been pushing too hard as the conditions haven’t allowed that. I’ve been driving within myself and will do so during the final day as I’m over four minutes ahead of the international competitors. To get maximum points will be great for our championship hopes.”

Leave a Reply