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Germany - day 1: Loeb builds solid lead

15 August 2008

Sebastien Loeb showed once again why he is the master on the Rallye Deutschland by setting the pace in all six stages on Friday and finishing the opening leg with a 19.9 second lead.

Loeb began the tenth round in the championship, an event he has won every year since it joined the WRC schedule back in 2002, perfectly by setting the pace in all three tests on the opening loop.

The Frenchman completed SS1 - the 21.22 km Ruwertal / Fell test in 11 minutes 31.6 seconds, 5.8 seconds up on Dani Sordo, who was 'best of the rest'. He then went quickest again in Grafschaft Veldenz to increase his early lead almost two-fold, before inching further in front in SS3, the 9.82 km run through Moselland. The four-time world rally champion thus returned to the first service in Trier with a 15.3 second lead.

In the afternoon Seb again set the standard, 2.2 seconds up on Francois Duval in SS4 and he headed into the final two stages with a 17.7 second lead.

While SS5 and SS6 were both disrupted - the former following Gigi Galli's crash and the latter due to safety concerns, which meant only three drivers' actually completed it at speed - Loeb maintained his dominance and ended the day with a clean sweep of stage wins.

"The conditions stayed dry all day. I immediately felt comfortable with my car and I was able to push hard from the outset,” said Loeb. “It's been a very positive day, but a gap of 19.9s isn't yet sufficient to start thinking in terms of controlling from in front.”

Hirvonen meanwhile finished the day second and he was right up there with Loeb in the final two stages, just 0.1 seconds slower in Grafschaft Veldenz 2 and 1.1 seconds adrift in Moselland 2.

As such he managed to overhaul Dani Sordo for P2, finishing proceedings in a 'Citroen sandwich', almost 20 seconds off his main championship rival and 5.7 seconds up on the #2 C4 WRC car.

"I've had a good feeling all day, especially this afternoon, and I'm having so much fun,” said Mikko. “The speed was there this morning but on the second loop things went even better. There's not much more room before I start taking big risks but I will try to keep the pressure on Loeb tomorrow."

Sordo for his part complained about his tyre choice this morning and in the afternoon - but with two second quickest times, one fourth and two thirds his pace was still very impressive.

"I gradually started to find my marks on asphalt again. I made a few small adjustments to my set-up between stages to try to adapt it as closely as possible to the conditions. It would have been nice to have felt a little more comfortable with the soft compound tyres, but I know where I lost time," added the Spaniard.

Further down the order Francois Duval is fourth on his first outing in the WRC since the Rallye Monte Carlo way back in January. The Belgian was fourth quickest in SS1, seventh in SS2 and third in SS3, his only real complaint on the first loop a slight delay in the electronic gear shift.

He was then second quickest in SS4 and fourth in SS5 and finally ended the day 13.1 seconds off the battle for third and 17 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala in P5.

"I'm still getting used to the car and these new soft Pirellis but we made some changes to the setup of the car for this afternoon's stages and this seemed to work better,” he stated. “Hopefully we can continue this into tomorrow.”

Latvala jumped up from seventh to fifth in SS5, when he was around 10 seconds faster than both the Subaru's of Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg. Jari opted for a cautious start eager to gain experience on asphalt and get good points after his early error in Finland.

"I had a lot more confidence this afternoon with the harder springs. A top five position was my target tonight. I want to maintain that tomorrow because I know it will be difficult to catch the guys ahead,” noted Jari.

Petter is next up, 5.2 seconds further back, and while he was disappointed to see SS6 canned, he agreed it was a sensible decision.

“It's a shame about the final stage, but you have to respect the decision of the organisers and accept that it was the right thing to do. It's too bad for the people who are actually coming to watch the stages, but that's a part of the game,” stated the Norwegian. “It's unbelievable the number of people here, like Finland, and it's great for the sport anyway."

Atkinson was one of only three drivers' to complete SS6 competitively and the Aussie will have wished he would have missed it as an error when he overshot a junction cost him 30 seconds and a place on the leaderboad.

He now lies just 2.2 seconds up on Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg and 33.1 seconds off 'Hollywood'.

Citroen semi-privateer Urmo Aava and Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister complete the top ten, followed by Per-Gunnar Andersson in the other SX4 WRC car, and then Ford men Andreas Mikkelsen and Matthew Wilson. Conrad Rautenbach and Peter van Merksteijn are 14th and 15th, the latter getting his first taste of a 2007 spec Ford Focus this weekend.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Martin Prokop took the lead in SS2 and following the four tests the J-WRC runners drove competitively, he is 7.6 seconds up on fellow Citroen C2 S1600 runner Sebastien Ogier.

"We had some grip problems with the tyres since the first stage this morning, but afterwards everything went well,” stated the Czech driver. “We were able to find a good rhythm on roads that we already know quite well, thanks to our victory here last year. Now we plan to maintain the same pace over the next two days of the event, in order to score the points that we need to improve our championship position."

Aaron Burkart completes the J-WRC top three, 37 seconds further back, with Renault's Gilles Schammel fourth and Florian Niegel fifth. Alessandro Bettega, Kevin Abbring and Andrea Cortinovis come in sixth, seventh and eighth.

As for retirees, Gigi Galli was the only major runner to hit problems, when he crashed out 11.3 kilometres into SS5. The Italian's Stobart Ford Focus went off at high-speed and ended up on its roof after going into some trees.

Gigi was airlifted to hospital with a fractured left femur and is due to have an operation tonight.

His co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini was also taken to hospital. He was given the all-clear this afternoon and discharged with just cuts and bruises.

The action now continues on Saturday and the second leg comprises a mix of countryside tests in Saarland and fearsome roads in the Baumholder military training area.

After leaving Trier at 06.15 hours, drivers face two loops of four speed tests covering 159.76km before returning to the city at 19.58 hours [all times local]. The most challenging section will be two passes through the 30.38km Panzerplatte stage in Baumholder, the longest of the rally.


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