France - leg 1: Loeb ends day 1 on top
12 October 2007
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb concluded day 1 of the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse on top after setting the standard in the afternoon.
Loeb lost out in the morning and after SS1 was cancelled due to spectator problems, Marcus Gronholm set the pace in both SS2 and SS3.
Seb was 3.1 seconds slower than the Finn in Belvedere 1 and although he was only 0.1 seconds off the Ford man in Arbellara 1, Gronholm did enough to return to the mid-day service area with the lead, albeit a slender one - just 2.9 seconds ahead of Daniel Sordo, while Loeb was in P3.
The Frenchman however turned the tables on the repeat runs and moved up to P2 in SS4, when he was 1.1 seconds up on Gronholm and 4.5 seconds quicker than his team-mate. Seb then went in front on SS5, with his second stage win in succession, before completing a hat-trick in SS6. The Citroen man will now take a 4.8 second lead into the second day.
"We changed a few of the settings in the mid-day service. I found some confidence again," he explained. "I can attack a bit harder now. There was nothing strategic though. I just went as quickly as I could: I had no choice. I think it's going to be another really good fight this weekend."
Gronholm, like Loeb, opted for the harder tyre in the afternoon, but despite managing to stay ahead of Sordo was unable to do match Seb and had to settle for the second best times in SS4, SS5 and SS6.
"I used the hardest tyres that we had at our disposal, but I did not have a fantastic feeling with them," he reflected. "Loeb is on the attack now and I am sure that he will continue in this way. I went as quickly as I could. There was nothing else for me to do."
Sordo meanwhile finished the leg 18.5 seconds off Loeb and 13.7 seconds off Gronholm. He blamed his tyre choice for his failure to match the 'big two' in the afternoon and conceded that he just wasn't driving as well.
"I had tyres that were too soft for this loop of stages. I couldn't go any quicker," he confirmed.
Francois Duval is next up in fourth - however, the Belgian has been unable to repeat his Rallye Deutschland heroics. He is already nearly a minute adrift of the battle for the win and 40 seconds off the final place on the podium. The OMV Kronos Citroen man reckoned the car was moving around too much in the morning and while things weren't perfect in the afternoon he did seem slightly more positive.
"I enjoyed myself, even though it was difficult to fight with the top three drivers today. I think I should go better tomorrow, as the stages are narrower and more twisty," he stated.
Further down the order, Subaru's Petter Solberg finished up fifth and although the Norwegian isn't far behind Duval in P4, he did slip back further in SS4, SS5 and SS6, with the gap increasing from less than a second to 5.3 seconds post-Arbellara 2.
'Hollywood' complained of under-steer in both loops: "I'm still getting a lot of understeer. I'm trying to find the right compromise between pushing hard and looking after my tyres."
Jari-Matti Latvala rounds the top six, the Stobart Ford man having moved ahead of Chris Atkinson in SS4. Jari managed to set the fourth best time in SS4 and SS5 and then beat Chris again in SS6, when he was sixth fastest. Chris though didn't lose too much and finished the day just 3.3 seconds back in his Impreza.
"It's been an extremely positive day for me," said Jari. "I have been able to fight with some drivers who are extremely quick on asphalt, such as Francois Duval and Petter Solberg."
Subaru 'third' driver, Xavier Pons completes the provisional points' scorers at this early stage, in eighth. Like Petter he complained of under-steer and as such didn't feel 100 per cent confident.
Of the rest, Skoda privateer, Jan Kopecky and Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg came in ninth and tenth, followed by Andreas Mikkelsen, Manfred Stohl and Matthew Wilson.
Stohl had a bad day and has just been trying to re-gain his confidence after his off in Spain last weekend: "I'm just glad that today is over really," said the OMV Kronos Citroen driver, "I've never felt comfortable and tomorrow is a brand new day."
In the Junior Rally Championship category, Urmo Aava took over the lead in SS5 in his Suzuki Swift and then proceeded to pull out a bit of a gap over Martin Prokop, who drops to second, now 8.8 seconds adrift.
Aava's main eye though will be on his team-mate and championship rival, Per-Gunnar Andersson, who finished proceedings in third, 16.9 seconds back. P-G will need to put his foot down on Saturday if he is to close the gap and keep himself in with a chance of the title.
Aaron Burkart and Jozef Beres round out the JRC top five, with Conrad Rautenbach sixth.
In terms of retirees there were three big names that failed to make it to the end of the opening leg, namely Mikko Hirvonen, Nicolas Bernardi and Stobart Ford 'fourth' driver, Alessandro Bettega.
Mikko was the first to go out when he went off the road in SS3 due to an over-optimistic pace note. Bernardi then retired the new Suzuki SX4 WRC car post-SS4, when the car lost power, while Bettega crashed out in SS5. The 2006 FSTi winner had been going well up to that point and was running in the top ten.
The action now resumes on Saturday at 08.58 hours local time, when SS7, the 21.88 kilometre-run through Carbuccia-Scalella, kicks off the second leg. Six tests will be run on day 2, totally around 120 competitive kilometres.