Wrong right: Loeb out in Lisbon
FLYING FINNS: Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila get airborne in their Ford Fiesta RS during the first stage of the Portugal WRC Rally at Belem, Lisbon, on March 29, 2012. Image: AFP
LISBON, Portugal - Eight-times World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb has crashed out of the 2012 Rally of Portugal, his Citroen spinning off on the third night stage on Thursday's opening day.
Loeb was third in the race standings when his DS3 careered off the gravel surface about seven kilometres into the third special.
Neither he nor co-driver Daniel Elena was hurt but the same could not be said for their car, which ended up some distance from the road.
Citroen Racing director Yves Matton explained: "The driver and co-driver are fine but the security roll bar is damaged and the team has had to abandon the race. Sebastien told me he was going at a normal, not excessive, pace when they arrived at the top of a hill followed by a right-hand bend but he turned left.
"We watched images of it and we reckon he was influenced by a slight turn left just before. He heard the instruction which he got at the right time but he didn't understand it.
"The road was dry and conditions were normal for this type of gravel rally. The car rolled, but there weren't any major bumps."
Loeb went into the rally optimistic that he would maintain the momentum in his push for a ninth World title. He arrived in Portugal at the top of the overall driver's standings after winning in Monte Carlo and Mexico.
After Norway's former champion Petter Solberg claimed the day's first daylight stage on the streets of Lisbon the drivers turned on their headlights for the three evening specials that took the cars from the start in the Portuguese capital and sent them south towards the Algarve.
Solberg doubled up in the second special, completing the 10.19km run one-and-a-half seconds quicker than Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala to consolidate his overall lead.
With Loeb out of contention Latvala posted the quickest time in the day's closing special behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta.
The Finn came in almost three seconds quicker than his teammate Solberg to assume control of the overall standings going into Friday's second day, but only by half a second.
Spaniard Dani Sordo failed to start stage three on Thursday because of a lighting problem with his Mini.
The Rally of Portugal will finish on Sunday.
Rally of Portugal first-leg times on Thursday
1 Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) Ford 25min04.6
2 Petter Solberg (Norway) Ford +00min02.6
3 Mikko Hirvonen (Finland) Citroen 00min05.0
4 Ott Taenak (Estonia) Ford 00min15.7
5 Thierry Neuville (Belgium) Citroen 00min34.0
6 Mads Ostberg (Norway) Ford 00min53.3
7 Evgeny Novikov (Russia) Ford 01min02.9
8 Jari Ketomaa (Finland) Ford 01min15.0
9 Hayden Paddon (New Zealand) Skoda 01min39.6
10 Dennis Kuipers (Netherlands) Ford 01min47.1