The Citroen C4 WRCs dictate the pace
The second leg of the 2009 Rally Ireland has seen the two Citroën Total World Rally Team crews strengthen their domination at the sharp end of the provisional leaderboard. A score of five fastest times from a possible six enabled Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena to keep a firm hold on top spot ahead of their team-mates Dani Sordo and Marc Marti. With one day remaining, the two Citroën C4 WRCs appear to be in an ideal position to kick off the new season with a one-two finish.

The flooded stages of Ulster’s Lake District near Fermanagh proved extremely treacherous as heavy rain continued to fall over the north of Ireland. Located some 100km from Sligo, today’s loop of stages (Sloughan Glen, Ballinamallard and Tempo) was contested twice, with a return to the service park programmed between the two visits.

Continuing as they had done on Friday afternoon, the two Citroën C4 WRCs set off for the morning’s competitive action equipped with the Pirelli Sottozero snow tyre which has proved more competitive than the traditional PZero asphalt tyre in this weekend’s extreme conditions.

The morning’s loop turned out to be a carbon copy of yesterday afternoon’s scenario, too, with Sébastien Loeb posting all three fastest times, just ahead of his team-mate Dani Sordo. "I was forced to push quite hard, but I tried not to take any unnecessary risks," explained the provisional leader on his return to the service park. "That said, my mission was facilitated by the fact that I feel confident at the wheel of my C4 WRC. For me, it’s the only way to feel the limits of my tyres as far as grip is concerned. Anyone can make a mistake, especially in conditions like this."

Meanwhile, Dani Sordo saw the potential threat from Mikko Hirvonen fade a little : "We mustn’t lose sight of our mission, which is to hold on to second place in order to try to notch up a one-two finish for Citroën. Mikko had a few problems this morning and the gap between us opened up by a further minute. I am therefore under less pressure, but there is no way I can afford to ease up. I think there was even more water on the stages this morning than yesterday, and that’s saying something !"

To add weight to his cautious words, Sébastien Loeb suffered a small scare a few kilometres before the end of Sloughan 2 (SS12) : "I came out of a corner a bit too wide and my rear wheel smacked the bank. The rim became clogged up with dirt and that caused a big vibration. Given our lead, we didn’t hesitate to lift."

As if to show that the competitiveness of his C4 WRC had not been affected by the incident, the five-time World Champion went on to add another two fastest times to his score. He reached this evening’s service park with a cushion of 1m 9.1s over his team-mate : "It’s looking very promising, but this rally is by no means over. I will try to keep to the same sort of pace tomorrow."

Dani Sordo continued to honour his side of the contract by tucking in behind Loeb : "To tell the truth, it’s not that much fun driving in these extremely slippery conditions. I tried to focus 100 per cent on not making any mistakes."

"We’ve got two cars in the lead, and our main rival is more than a minute behind, so there’s not a great deal more I could have asked of the team at this point in the proceedings," observed Citroën Sport Director Olivier Quesnel. "Sébastien came close to making it a grand slam today, while Dani put in a very mature and pragmatic run. I often say that we have the best driver line-up in the sport and I think the current positions are further evidence of that. The crews, mechanics and engineers are nonetheless acutely aware that we’ve still got a hard day of competition to come. Tomorrow’s stages are just as challenging and we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball. The conditions promise to be our biggest opponent all the way to the finish…"

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