Sebastien Loeb claimed the lead in the Rally of Greece on Friday, opening up a 6.5 second lead over Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala after a demanding second day in tricky conditions.
French world champion Loeb, who has not won in Greece for four years, trailed Latvala by 2.8 seconds after Thursday’s first stage, but showed his class on the rock-strewn terrain in and around the gulf of Corinth.
Friday’s itinerary consisted of eight stages over a grueling 12-hour period with service during the day restricted to two 15-minute remote stops in the town of Itea.
Loeb took the lead on Stage 4, Elikonas, and held it until the final stage of the day, SS9.
“We are leading, so that’s the most important thing. There was a lot of dust in this stage and I made two mistakes near the end, but generally it was a good day,” Loeb said.
Latvala, who has made an impressive return from a broken collarbone that forced him to miss the previous round in Argentina, reduced Loeb’s lead to just 6.5 seconds.
The factory Ford driver suffered the injury while on a cross-country skiing training run in Lapland.
Back behind the wheel, the Ford driver’s stage win on the second run through Thiva saw him beat Loeb by 3.7 seconds, as the Citroen man battled with visibility issues because of numerous delayed cars ahead kicking up dust.
“It has been a reasonably good day; I started gaining back my driving in the afternoon,” Latvala said. “I will try to catch him tomorrow, but it’s like in Finland, where the differences are in seconds.”
Latvala’s teammate Petter Solberg also shaved time off Loeb’s lead on Thiva and heads into the overnight break 17.7 seconds off the lead in third place.
In the second Citroen, fourth-placed Mikko Hirvonen lost time after suffering a puncture, which the Finn suspected was the result of some slight deviations off the beaten track while unsighted by dust.