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Loeb leads on black day in Spain

24 March 2006


Kronos Citroen driver, Sebastien Loeb leads the Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada following the opening leg on Friday, although the event has been overshadowed by the death of Aaron Burkart's co-driver, Jorg Bastuck.

Bastuck lost his life after a tragic accident on SS2. Burkart and Bastuck had gone off the road in their Citroen C2 during the first run of the 24.14km El Montmell stage. While neither were injured in the incident itself, Bastuck was later hit by the Ford Fiesta of Barry Clark and Scott Martin, which left the road at the same place, striking the German as he was changing a wheel on the car.

The 36-year-old was airlifted to the Joan XXIII Hospital in Tarragona, where they certified his death at 11:30. As a mark of respect, there will now be no celebrations at the finish in Salou on Sunday.

Loeb meanwhile began the day trailing Marcus Gronholm, who won the opening three tests, to head into the second service of the day with a 9.3 second lead. However Gronholm's Ford had turbo problems in SS5 and SS6, plummeting him down the leaderboard, and promoting Loeb, who had been best of the rest up to that point into P1.

The Frenchman finished the day with three successive fastest stages and a 27.3 seconds lead in his Xsara WRC.

Reigning Junior champion, Daniel Sordo lies second, on only his fourth ever event in a WRC car, the Spaniard continuing to impress and overhauling Mikko Hirvonen for third in SS4. Like Loeb, he benefited from Gronholm's woes to move up a place, but that doesn't take anything away from his performance, which in short, was again extremely impressive.

Xavier Pons rounds out the provisional podium in third, potentially giving Kronos Racing and Citroen the perfect 1-2-3 result, although it is admittedly still early days. Pons has been consistent throughout the first leg, although he has again been outshone by Sordo.

Petter Solberg is next up, fourth for Subaru, his place somewhat deceiving, as the Impreza has lacked speed all day. The Norwegian was frustrated not to be able to fight for the win and ended up around 1.5 minutes adrift following SS6, the final test of the day.

Stephane Sarrazin has also struggled in the sister works Impreza and likewise was not happy, he lies seventh, with Alex Bengue and Jan Kopecky sandwiched between the two Subaru's in fifth and sixth respectively, the former using a privately entered Peugeot 307, while the latter is the best placed Skoda.

Furtherdown the order, Chris Atkinson is currently on course to pick up the final drivers' point, despite a turbulent SS4, which saw him damage the left-rear suspension, the rear sump and the windscreen on his Subaru. The Aussie is less than 7 seconds up on Francois Duval, who has struggled with brake problems for much of the day.

Early leader, Gronholm rounds out the top ten – the Finn having after losing 2-3 minutes in the final loop, after his Focus developed turbo boost problems. His team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen also had similar issues in SS5 and SS6, dropping from fourth after SS4 to 14th at the end of the leg.

Of the other works drivers, Manfred Stohl is eleventh, but unhappy with the set-up on his OMV Peugeot 307, while Matthew Wilson lies twelfth for the Stobart team, ahead of Red Bull Skoda drivers, Andreas Aigner and Gilles Panizzi in 13th and 15th.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category Martin Prokop leads in his Citroen C2, ahead of Bernd Casier and Julien Pressac. Kris Meeke languishes down in eighth after problems in SS4, when he lost the left-back wheel on his Citroen and with it the early lead.

The action will now resume on Saturday, but a black cloud will remain over the event following the death of Bastuck.

All at Crash.net extend our sympathies to Jorg's family and friends.


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