Sebastien Loeb expertly chased down the Ford of Jari-Matti Latvala to secure a 24-second lead at the end of the second day of the Rally of Jordan.
The Frenchman entered the day running third but slowly ate into the Finn's advantage to assume the lead on the day's penultimate test. With Latvala purposely slowing on the final stage in order to give himself a better place in the running order on the final day, Loeb appears well set to land his second victory of the season.
The six-times world champion's mood will have been lifted on the first stage of the day when title rival Mikko Hirvonen exited the rally. The Finn clipped a bank on the inside of a corner, shooting his Ford Focus across the road and into another bank, breaking his left-front suspension.
Loeb then moved into second place on stage 10, as he overtook Petter Solberg, and then continued to make further inroads into Latvala's advantage through the afternoon loop.
The Citroë*driver overhauled the deficit with a stage to spare, having drawn level on the previous test, prompting Latvala to slow his pace and fall behind another Citroën – driven by Sebastien Ogier – to lie third.
The Ford driver will hope that Loeb encounters difficulty running first on the road today. The man running first tends to act as a 'road sweeper', effectively clearing the loose gravel off the roads and leaving a cleaner surface for those running behind.
Hirvonen admitted he had been at fault for his crash. He said: "It was a silly mistake and it was stupid that it happened on such an easy section.
"I was too much on the inside over a small crest. The back of the car hit a gravel bank on a right-hander and it threw the car into the air and across the road. It landed on the front left and broke the suspension. The angle was so sideways that the car almost landed on my door.
"I woke up this morning feeling really up for the fight until that happened. It's very disappointing and it's put me in a very difficult position in the championship. But I'm determined to fight back," he added.
Loeb was happy to benefit from his rival's misfortune, which will give the Frenchman some much-needed leeway in the title fight. He said: "It doesn't change anything for this race but for the championship there is less pressure because I know if I have a problem or if I retire then we are still equal, just the way it was before the start of the rally.
"It has been a good day for me," Loeb added. "Each time in the long stage I got a very good time and that was the difference I could make. But we are in the lead and I will try to push hard to keep that gap, but I know it won't be easy."Reuse content