Regrouping at the head of the Acropolis Rally. Following a small error costing him a handful of seconds, Sébastien Loeb lost his leadership at the end of the fifth special and was replaced in the lead by his compatriot and team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet, author of his first scratch in the WRC.
“I braked a bit late for a hairpin right and couldn’t turn the car,” regretted the nine-time champion. “So I had to go into reverse.”
Any benefit for his teammate Pierre-Louis Loubet, author of his first scratch in Mondial 3.3 ahead of Esapekka Lappi, the fastest in the previous special.
“It’s come close a few times this year,” smiled the son of the former European rally champion. “I deserved this one. I rode fast, but not too much.”
The Corsican and his Ford Puma now have a 1.9 lead over the Toyota Yaris of Esapekka Lappi. Sébastien Loeb fell to 3rd place at 4.2 seven tenths ahead of Thierry Neuville. Deprived of a hybrid system since SS4, Ott Tanak is now in 5th place at 13.8. Kalle Rovanpera is still ninth but more than half a minute behind.
Victim of a puncture costing him more than two minutes in SS4, Craig Breen dropped out of the Top 10.
SS3: Loeb doubles the lead ahead of Neuville, Rovanpera drops to 9th place
With now a four minute gap between the competitors, much less dust and more visibility concerns. The sweep therefore played its role again and allowed Sébastien Loeb to sign a second consecutive scratch one second ahead of Thierry Neuville and 2.6 faster than Pierre-Louis Loubet. First on the road, Kalle Rovanpera complained about his settings and only posted tenth time at 10.5.
In the general classification, Loeb consolidates his lead. The Ford driver now has 2.7 on Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai and 4.8 on his teammate Pierre-Louis Loubet. Ott Tanak clings to 4th place at 5.6. Craig Breen puts a third Puma in the Top 5 8.4 five tenths ahead of Esapekka Lappi’s first Toyota. Championship leader Kalle Rovanpera drops to 9th at 13.3.
“There is a lot of cleaning on this stage,” explained Thierry Neuville. “The gaps should have been the same on the first if we had been directly put four minutes behind. “a cleaner road. But we will try to keep the gap as small as possible.”
Victim of a fire starting in the back of his Hyundai Thursday evening at the end of the show stage, our other compatriot Grégoire Munster had to return his logbook prematurely, just like Andreas Mikkelsen in WRC2. But after repairs throughout the night by the BMA team, he was able to start again this morning with ten minutes of penalty and set the 31st time in the second special, 1.6 behind his sponsor Jourdan Serderidis at the wheel of the Puma WRC1.
SS2: Seb Loeb back in the lead, Neuville 4th in the dust
The dust kicked up by the competitors considerably reduced visibility for all the drivers who started behind the opener Kalle Rovanpera, which considerably reduced the advantage of cleaning the road over the passages.
Nevertheless, it was two drivers who started very far, the “Fordists” Sébastien Loeb and Pierre-Louis Loubet, separated by eight tenths, who set the two best times on this special, the nine-time world champion taking the lead in the rally 1.1 ahead of the Hyundai of Ott Tanak and 1.7 ahead of Thierry Neuville, fourth in the special but third overall.
“We knew there would be dust, no wind in the morning and therefore a lack of visibility, we asked for four minutes but once again the FIA did not listen to us. It’s really the m… ,” scolded the Belgian. “We don’t see anything. I hope the FIA appreciated it. It’s always the same,” embraced his Estonian team-mate.
Sébastien Loeb, he did not complain too much. “It wasn’t easy with the dust, the rising sun and a little brake scare at the end, but in the end it was a good stage,” smiled the new leader. Discovering this event, his Irish team-mate Craig Breen was signaled to stop on the road after the finish with the start of a fire fortunately quickly brought under control. He is back on the road and should be able to present himself at the start of the next special where the FIA has now decided to impose a four-minute gap between the cars. Too bad for TV and WRC Live… Currently fifth, Kalle Rovanpera could therefore lose more time there.