Subaru team leader Petter Solberg has established a comfortable lead following leg one of the Rally Italia Sardinia today [Friday], the Norwegian 30.3 seconds up on nearest rival, Marcus Gronholm, after 159 competitive kilometres.
'Hollywood' was fastest through three of the day's six tests, enough to ensure he remains on target for a hat-trick of wins, following his victories on Rally Japan and the Wales Rally GB.
"I must say I'm enjoying the stages more than I thought I would, you have to drive very precisely and use the throttle a lot to keep the car in the correct line, it reminded me a bit of my rallycross days in fact," said Solberg.
"I'm pleased with the position so far, but on this rally 30 seconds is really nothing at all, tomorrow is difficult, and Sunday even more difficult, so of course I'll keep pushing to try and increase the gap."
Gronholm, was unhappy with his car this morning, however on the repeat run through the Finn was quickest in SS4 and SS5, before setting only the fourth quickest time in SS6, to undo all his hard work, which had seen him reduce the gap to Solberg, to around 20 seconds.
"It's not been such a bad day. We've had no serious problems with the car, and in the afternoon the feeling was quite good. These are not my favourite type of stages - they are too slow and twisty - but I was finally able to find a good rhythm and get the best performance out of my 307 WRC. The pace at the front is very quick, so I will have to continue to push hard tomorrow. But I am quite optimistic about my prospects," said the Finn.
Championship leader Sebastien Loeb is third, just 4.5 seconds behind the Peugeot driver, despite being disadvantaged after running first on the road, and 'sweeping away' the loose gravel. The Frenchman heads his team-mate, Carlos Sainz by 25 seconds, the Spaniard again seemingly struggling to match the pace of the fastest runners.
"The road position naturally penalised me, but except for SS1, where Petter Solberg set an astonishing time, it was a good day, with a good fight with Marcus Gronholm," noted Loeb. "I will continue at my chosen pace tomorrow."
Ford duo Markko Martin and Francois Duval are fifth and seventh, sandwiching the second Peugeot 307 WRC of Harri Rovanpera, while Andrea Navarra is eighth, and currently on target to take the final championship point, as well as the honour of being the top privateer.
Nicolas Vouilloz and Henning Solberg round out the top ten, with Skoda's Armin Schwarz eleventh.
In the Junior WRC category Urmo Aava heads Suzuki team-mate, Per-Gunnar Andersson, by 13.3 seconds, with Nicolas Bernardi third in his Renault Clio, and championship leader, Guy Wilks fourth.
In total 50 competitors completed today's tests, 17 retiring. The two major retirements were Toni Gardemeister and Mikko Hirvonen, the former going out on SS1, after going off the road in his Skoda Fabia, while the latter retired following SS3 with gearbox problems.
The bulk of the second leg tomorrow is located further to the west on the slopes of Monte Lerno. After leaving Porto Cervo at 06.30, drivers face two identical loops of three speed tests, including two passes over the 34.21km Tandalo stage, the longest of the event. The two loops are split by a short lunchtime test further north, which will be broadcast on live television.
The seven stages cover 147.99km and drivers return to Porto Cervo at 20.00 for the final overnight halt.Don't miss out...
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