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Sardinia - day 1: Loeb extends lead

16 May 2008

Citroen number one Sebastien Loeb leads the Rally d'Italia Sardegna, the sixth round in the 2008 World Rally Championship, at the end of day one.

Loeb began the event by setting the fourth best time in SS1, the 16.43 kilometre-run through Monte Corvos, 7.8 seconds off the pace.

However he soon moved up into P1 and with two fastest stages time in succession in Crastazza 1 and Terranova 1, the Frenchman returned to the mid-day halt with a 22.5 second lead.

Seb then proceeded to pull further ahead on the repeat loop and while he lost 0.5 seconds in SS4, he was fastest in SS5, the repeat run through the 33.96 kilometre Crastazza stage - the longest test of the event - and was then second in SS6.

The four-time world champion will now take a 35.7 second lead into the second day and is currently looking very strong.

"I am happy with the way our weekend has started. I have an excellent feeling with the car which responds exactly the way I like," he reflected.

"Its handling is very precise and effective in all the different types of the conditions. We currently have a cushion of 53.8 seconds over our closest chaser and that's a good way to go into the second day, but it isn't enough to consider that victory is in the bag."

Dani Sordo meanwhile heads the chasing pack in the second 'works' C4 WRC and the Spaniard put in a very solid performance, posting two second quickest times, three fourths and one sixth.

"I am very happy with the way our day has gone," he continued. "I suffered a bit from understeer on the first two stages but a change in the settings gave us more confidence for the rest of the day. I very much enjoyed driving my C4. As always in Sardinia, the conditions weren't easy, including some tricky sandy sections and numerous rocks on the road. We came through today's pitfalls but there's still a long way to go before Sunday's finish."

Petter Solberg is next up for Subaru and after struggling with shock absorber problems in SS1, 2 and 3, the Norwegian found some more speed on the repeat loop, overhauling both BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen and his team-mate, Chris Atkinson.

'Hollywood' now lies 18.1 seconds off Sordo and 5.1 seconds up on Hirvonen, who is fourth.

"This morning I wasn't so comfortable but this afternoon was much better and I was really able to push," Petter stated. "The team have been working hard and things are going well.

"A podium would be very, very good but there's so many things happening on this rally. But at the end of the day it's good and I am happy with third. Tomorrow we will have to push very hard to keep the third place, but I am feeling good at the moment."

Hirvonen in contrast was disappointed with his pace and not 100 per cent sure why he wasn't faster.

"It was a strange day. My feeling with the car was good and the handling was fine but when I tried to control my speed it didn't work," explained the current championship leader. "I've not had the pace and I don't know why because I've not been over-driving.

"I want to go and check the data from my car to try to find where I'm losing time. It's still possible to get to second, which is the minimum I want from this rally."

Atkinson completes the top five, another 10.1 seconds back - and only narrowly up on Gigi Galli.

Galli opted to attack from the off and while it nearly went pear-shaped in SS2, when he hit a bank and picked up a puncture, which cost him around 70 seconds, he kept on it and even topped the times in SS4, hauling himself back up the leaderboard.

In total the Italian set top-three times in every test, bar SS2, and he could yet get onto the podium.

Further down the order, Jari-Matti Latvala finished the day seventh and like Gigi he had problems in Crastazza when he conceded time with a puncture and was caught out by the narrow roads. Jari had led initially and set two quickest times during the day, but the 90 seconds he lost in SS2 have put pay to any realistic chance of him winning.

Fellow Ford man, Henning Solberg completes the provisional points scorers in eighth, on his second 'guest' outing under the Munchi's banner. The Norwegian struggled early on, but was happier after service A and after making some changes to the set-up.

Of the rest, Citroen privateer Urmo Aava ended proceedings in ninth, slipping out of the points in the final stage, while Suzuki WRT duo Toni Gardemeister and Per-Gunnar Andersson came in tenth and eleventh respectively, followed by Conrad Rautenbach, Federico Villagra, Matthew Wilson and Mads Ostberg.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category Martin Prokop took the lead on SS2 and finished the day 3.7 seconds up on Michal Kosciuszko. Patrik Sandell completes the JWRC podium with Alessandro Bettgea and Jaan Molder fourth and fifth respectively.

Of the retirees, Andreas Mikkelsen and BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT 'third' driver Khalid Al Qassimi were the biggest casualties, the former rolling in SS2, while the latter hit a rock in SS4 and damaged the front left of the car. Al Qassimi will now re-start under the SupeRally.

JWRC sensational Sebastien Ogier also had a day to forget and he retired after SS4. Like Khalid, Ogier, plans to re-join on day 2.

The action now continues on Saturday and again it comprises two identical loops of three stages, split by a return to Olbia for service.

The opening stage is based in the same territory as today, while the other two are slightly further inland in the Gallura region. After leaving Olbia at 08.00 hours [local time], drivers will cover 135 kilometres of competition before returning for the final overnight halt at 18.44 hours [local time].


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