Sebastien Loeb will take a lead of almost one minute into the final three stages of Rally Mexico after a stunning performance on the second leg. The World Rally Champion started the day in third, 27 seconds down on overnight leader Petter Solberg, but ended it 55.5sec ahead of the Norwegian.
Loeb benefited from cleaner stage conditions as he was third on the road today, and was determined to build a big enough lead to ensure he has no concerns about the pack catching him when he has to run first tomorrow. The Citroen driver achieved his objective by comfortably winning all of today's full length stages, and with the cancellation of Sunday's Sauz Seco test on safety grounds, Loeb only has to hang on through two full length stages and a superspecial to clinch the win.
"It was really a perfect day for us again. No mistakes," he said. "I was on the limit all the time trying to increase my lead. Now we have more than 50 seconds, I hope it's OK for tomorrow. It should be. We have to stay on the road and not make any mistakes because it's difficult being first."
Although Solberg is still second in his self-run Citroen, he has come under increasing pressure from Citroen Junior's Sebastien Ogier. The Frenchman briefly moved ahead this afternoon, before easing his pace to ensure he ended the day third and therefore had a better leg three road position than his rival.
"We slowed down at the end because [running third] could be an advantage tomorrow for sure and we can try and finish second," said Ogier, who will start Sunday just 2.7sec behind Solberg. "It was a good day, just a few small problems – we spun once and stalled once."
While the works Fords remain in distant fourth and fifth places, Jari-Matti Latvala was pleased that going to a stiffer setup allowed him to at least go second fastest behind Loeb on the second runs through Ibarilla and Duarte.
"It's been much better in the afternoon than the morning," said Latvala. "We were stiffer with the car. I assumed that we had gone too soft. Now we know where we need to be."
But with his struggling team leader Mikko Hirvonen just 16sec behind in fifth, Latvala expects to be asked to cede position tomorrow.
"Let's see what happens tomorrow, but of course in a normal situation Mikko should be in front of me because he needs those points for the championship," he said.
Henning Solberg overcame brake problems to remain sixth for Stobart Ford, ahead of Munchi's Ford's Federico Villagra, S2000 lead combatants Martin Prokop and Xevi Pons, and Production leader Armindo Araujo.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h08m49.6s
2. Petter Solberg Citroen + 55.5s
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 58.2s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m43.9s
5. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 1m59.9s
6. Henning Solberg Ford + 2m25.2s
7. Federico Villagra Ford + 9m11.8s
8. Martin Prokop Ford + 16m28.0s
9. Xevi Pons Ford + 16m32.8s
10. Armindo Araujo Mitsubishi + 18m04.7s