Sebastien Loeb must have felt a little out of place over the first day and a half of the WRC Vodafone Rally Portugal. The five time champion is usually found at the top of the leader board but entered Saturday in third place. By the end of the day the situation was back to what has become the norm in 2009 as Loeb will be taking a comfortable lead into Sunday, the final day of the Rally of Portugal.
The Citroen driver started the day with a 20-second morning deficit and by the end of Saturday had turned it into almost a 27second lead over Mikko Hirvonen in his Ford Focus.
"A very good day for me," said Loeb, "we were pushing hard all day and the feeling with the car is very good. What's important is that we have a good lead for tomorrow. Road position can play a big part tomorrow, but I'm very happy with today - I couldn't have expected better. I've tried to increase my lead as much as possible."
Hirvonen did his utmost to keep in touch with Loeb today. The BP Ford World Rally Team driver hasn’t accepted defeat yet and hopes to close the gap when Loeb starts first on Sunday,
"A gap of nearly 27sec is a lot but I won't settle for second," said Hirvonen. "I hope Loeb will struggle with the conditions, as I did today, because I'm not counting on him having a problem. It has been a hard day for the tires. The roads were warm and abrasive, especially this afternoon, and perhaps I braked too aggressively because my front tires were totally worn at the end of the last stage.
"First on the road wasn't easy. The surface was very loose this morning. Even this afternoon when we repeated the special stages I was still sweeping a little because the cars lower down the order take different lines and so the clear path that developed was dirty again. Tomorrow's stages are technical and hopefully there won't be any dust hanging in the air. My only option is to attack and drive flat out," he added.
Early rally leader, Dani Sordo is now nearly a minute behind his teammate, Loeb in the second Citroen, but still maintains a comfortable margin in third over fourth-placed Petter Solberg in his privateer Citroen.
Stobart Ford’s Matthew Wilson finished the day in fifth, followed by his team-mate Henning Solberg just a slim 0.9 seconds behind.
Leading positions after day two:
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 2h56m15.6s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 26.8s
3. Dani Sordo Citroen + 56.4s
4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 1m59.6s
5. Matthew Wilson Ford + 3m22.9s
6. Henning Solberg Ford + 3m23.8s
7. Even Novice Citroen + 4m59.4s
8. Meds Oostburg Subaru + 5m00.2s
9. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen + 6m50.6s
10. Federico Villager Ford + 9m35.1s
Photo and Quotes Courtesy of WRC and BP Ford Rally Team