|It is looking like Sebastien Loeb will again be an unstoppable force as he takes charge of WRC New Zealand 2012: Image Citroen|
To no one’s surprise, Sebastian Loeb went out on SS5, the second pass over “Tu Hutewai” and continued his march to the front by pulling back another 1.5s seconds on his Citroen Racing teammate, Mikko Hirvonen, narrowing the overall gap to 1.5sTeam Ford drivers Latvala and Solberg who were now on proper tires also began their push back to the front, Latvala would finish the stage second fastest to Loeb, while Petter would finish forth.
SS6, Mikko Hirvonen was not letting the pressure from Loeb get to him, he went out and set a stunning pace on the second pass on the “Whaanga Coast” stage, which allowed him to rebuild a 7.6-second lead in his Brother Rally New Zealand battle with Citroen team-mate Sebastian Loeb.
With a fresh pair of softer compound tires on his Ford Fiesta Ken Block found some great pace setting a top ten stage time on SS6. After 6 stages Block moved to 11th overall but some 22 seconds adrift of WRC returnee Manfred Stohl in 10th.
SS7, again Sebastian Loeb is not showing his Citroen team mate Mikko Hirvonen much love, Loeb takes the stage by a full 3 seconds over Hirvonen. Petter Solberg is now on maximum attached trying to make up for a disastrous start on the morning stages, Solberg set the third fastest time on SS7.Dani Sordo was also on the move on SS7 pushing the Prodrive Mini to within a second of Petter.
But it was near disaster for Fords Jari-Matti Latvala on SS7, after saving his tires on the earlier stages Latvala was pushing hard to close the gap to the Citroens, but Jari cut just a little too deep on one of the corners and got pulled into a farmers fence. It took the help of some nearby spectators to free Latvala’s entangled Fiesta from the wired mess. He would loss over four minutes in the stage.
Ken Block continued to improve pace on the second pass on “Te Akau South 2”; by grabbed 8th fastest time on SS7.
SS8, Into the final stage of day one, “Te Akau North 2” again Loeb was unstoppable, checking in a full 7.8 seconds ahead of his nearest rival Petter Solberg.
Mikko Hirvonen’s road position was definitely posing some challenges on now a much looser surface. Despite placing third on the stage on worn tires, it was just not enough for Hirvonen to hold off Sebastian Loeb from taken his all but too familiar place at the end of day one. Loeb heads into day two with a 4 second advantage on Hirvonen.
Russian driver Evgeny Novikov in the Fiesta is holding third overall, although 1m.27s back from HIRVONEN. Petter Solberg is back to within 9 seconds of a podium place in forth. Ken Block’s pace on the afternoon stages has left him sitting in 10th overall a great position for Block heading into day two.
All results are unofficial until confirmed by the WRC.
Report: Neil McDaid