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Spain - leg 1: Loeb looking unstoppable

5 October 2007

Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb heads the pack at the end of leg 1 of the Rally Catalunya Costa Daurada, the twelfth round in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship.

Loeb began the day with the second best time in SS1, 2.6 seconds off Marcus Gronholm, before taking the lead in SS2, when he was 2.3 seconds up on his team-mate, Daniel Sordo and 7 seconds up Gronholm.

In the end he went into the first service halt at Port Aventura with a 3.7 second cushion in his Citroen C4 WRC.

The middle loop saw Loeb extend his advantage over his championship rival and two second best efforts allowed him to increase the margin more than five-fold, from 4.4 seconds post-SS2 to 25 seconds post-SS4.

By now though Dani was starting to really find his groove and the Spaniard put in a storming time on SS4 and was 8 seconds quicker than the Seb, a result that pushed him up to P1 overall - albeit just 0.7 seconds in front.

Sordo then increased his cushion further in SS5, before Loeb took command in the final test of the day, the rain-affected 26.48 kilometre-run through Pratdip. The Frenchman was just under 15 seconds faster than Sordo in SS6 and consequently will go into the second leg on Saturday with an 11.3 second lead.

Gronholm for his part ended the day nearly a minute off Seb and was understandably none-to-pleased.

Although he managed to win SS1 and was second fastest in SS5 and third quickest in SS2, he lost a big chunk in the middle loop when he opted for the wrong tyres and then gave away even more time in the final test.

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile finished the day in fourth place in the sister BP Ford Focus RS WRC car and while he had been more than 20 seconds behind Gronholm post-SS2 by the end of the day less than 3 seconds split the two Finns.

Of the rest, Francois Duval could only show glimpses of the pace he enjoyed in Germany and while he had a good middle loop, setting the quickest time in SS3 and the third best in SS4, clutch problems in the first two tests and tyre problems in SS5 and SS6 left him further down than many had expected.

In the end he finished the day more than 1 minute off the lead in his Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC and 30 seconds or so off the two BP Fords.

Subaru's Petter Solberg completes the top six and despite no real problems was unable to match the Citroen C4s - or for that matter the BP Ford Focus'. His best effort was a fourth quickest time in the final test of the day and his sights are now firmly set on trying to overhaul Duval and grab fifth. Currently he is 9.6 seconds adrift of the Belgian.

Stobart Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala and Subaru's Chris Atkinson rounded out the provisional points scorers', the former surviving quite a big scare in the last test of the day.

Further down the pack, Xavier Pons ended up ninth in the third SWRT entry, while Henning Solberg completes the top ten, followed by Britain's Matthew Wilson and Thomas Schie.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Urmo Aava ended the day with a 10 second lead, having set the pace in the class in all but one of the tests. The Estonian took over P1 in the JRC in SS3 and then pulled gradually away from his Suzuki Swift team-mate and chief rival for the Junior title, Per-Gunnar Andersson.

Martin Prokop is third in the JRC in his Citroen C2 Super 1600, albeit over a minute off the battling Suzukis.

Renault Clio runners, Kalle Pinomaki and Jozef Beres are fourth and fifth respectively, while Conrad Rautenbach completes the top six.

In terms of retirees there were three big casualties on day 1, namely Munchi's team leader, Luis Perez Companc, OMV Kronos Citroen's Manfred Stohl and Skoda privateer, Jan Kopecky.

Companc was the first to go out, when he went off the road in SS2. Stohl and Kopecky followed in SS3, the former damaging his Xsara quite badly and as such the Austrian will not be able to rejoin the fold on Saturday under the SupeRally. It is not yet known if Companc or Kopecky will be able to re-start on day 2.

The action now resumes on Saturday at 08.43 hours local time, with SS7, the 13.29 kilomete-run through Vilaplana 1. Leg 2 includes eight stages in total - comprising around 120 competitive kilometres.

Stay tuned for all the latest...


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