Sebastien Loeb's World Rally Championship rivals have praised the Frenchman's efforts through the second day of Rally New Zealand, when the Citroen driver has stormed back through the field following his Friday error, setting a string of fastest times.
There was universal acclaim for the six-time champion's time through the third stage of the day, Te Akau Coast – a 19-mile test which was reckoned to be the most slippery of the event so far. Loeb was 22 seconds faster than anybody on that stage, and has been fastest on every one of the day's six dirt stages.
"F****** hell!" said Loeb's teammate Dani Sordo when he saw the Te Akau Coast time. "That's incredible. What about that time? He will win the rally now."
Sebastien Ogier, the leader of the event through day two pointed out that running seventh on the road had helped Loeb.
"It's typical of the luck of Loeb," smiled Ogier. "He has the problem yesterday, and finds the [right] position on the roads which are cleaning the most. He has been incredible. It looks like he can do what he likes."
Loeb himself was typically reserved about his performance.
"It was OK," he said. "Yes, I was pushing hard, but not harder than yesterday when I was trying not to lose any time. I was determined to come back into the race and not give up. I had a good position on the road, so I wanted to use it.
"I'm really happy with the way the day has gone so far – I haven't given up."
Asked if he thought he could win the event, he replied: "Maybe we have a small chance now."
Loeb goes into the day's final stage – a second blast around the three-mile Hampton Downs raceway – in second place, just 5.1sec behind leader Ogier. He started the day 1m19s off the lead of the event after he collided with a bridge on the fourth stage yesterday.