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Loeb holds slender lead


A fightback during which he won several special stages has taken world champion Sebastien Loeb into the lead of the Portuguese Rally.

March 31, 2007, 3.30pm. Despite picking up three punctures during the day’s opening stage, world champion Sebastien Loeb fought back to hold a three-second lead over Marcus Gronholm after Leg 1 of the Rally of Portugal on Friday.

At the overnight halt, Loeb (Citroen C4 WRC) said his pacenotes were “a little optimistic in several places.

"That resulted in one or two hairy moments. The different types of surface made tyre choices difficult but the compromises we made enabled us to set the fastest time on SS4 which took us to within 2.6 seconds of the lead."

During the afternoon, he won SS6 and SS7 to finish the day 3.1s ahead of Gronholm (Ford Focus RS WRC 2006).

"My objective this afternoon was to try to move into (the) lead in order to start after Marcus on the road tomorrow and therefore benefit from knowledge of his split times.

“After SS5, I modified my set-up again in an attempt to find extra grip. My C4 wasn't quite as precise but I did have more grip and that was a big help over today's last two stages which were technically very challenging."

Gronholm’s teammate Mikko Hirvonen ran third, ahead of Petter Solberg’s works Subaru Impreza WRC 2007, and Loeb’s Citroen teammate Dani Sordo.

Gronholm had led for much of the day before being edged into second during the final few kilometres.

A broken front shock absorber, the legacy of a heavy landing, forced him to be cautious through the morning’s final test and Loeb closed the gap to 2.6s at the lunchtime service.

"I was lucky to be leading because I jumped badly midway through the first stage," Gronholm said.

"The landing was hard and broke the front right shock absorber and cracked the windscreen. I was angry with myself for making the mistake and that spurred me on to win the next stage.

“I'm surprised I completed the loop because the front right was crashing into the ground in the last stage but it shows just how strong the Focus RS is."

In the afternoon, “Seb was just faster than me," said Gronholm. "He is often faster in the afternoon when he has learned the stages during the first loop but the time gap is small, I'm not far away and everything is possible."

Gronholm, Hirvonen, Loeb and Solberg fought for every second during the morning stages, and positions changed with every test.

Solberg was second after the morning stages, but suffered tyre wear problems in the afternoon and spun on the penultimate test.

Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford Focus) lost 40 seconds when he stalled on the first morning stage, but then set three top three times to climb back up the leaderboard.

Jan Kopecky (Skoda) retired with brake troubles after the first stage and Mads Ostberg (Subaru) and Guy Wilks (Ford) both rolled out.

Top 10 placings at the end of Leg 1.

1. Sebastien Loeb, Citroen C4 WRC, 1h 25m 39.0 2s.
2. Marcus Gronholm, Ford Focus RS WRC 2006, 3.1s behind.
3. Mikko Hirvonen, Ford Focus RS WRC 2006, 25.3s behind.
4. Petter Solberg, Subaru Impreza WRC 2007, 32.8s behind.
5. Dani Sordo, Citroen C4 WRC, 1m 10.9s behind.
6. Jari-Matti Latvala, Ford Focus RS WRC 2006, 1m 42.2s behind.
7. Manfred Stohl, Citroen Xsara WRC, 2m 01.0s behind.
8. Chris Atkinson, Subaru Impreza WRC 2007, 2m 12.2s behind.
9. Daniel Carlsson, Citroen Xsara WRC, 2m 19.4s behind.
10. Toni Gardemeister, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo WRC, 2m 28.8s behind.


Photo caption: Loeb pictured in the Citroen C4 during the Rally of Mexico. Photo by Citroen.




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