Spain - day 1: Loeb, Citroen annihilate rivals
3 October 2008
Sebastien Loeb left his rivals in the World Rally Championship trailing on the Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada on Friday as he underlined yet again his mastery on tarmac.
Loeb seized P1 right from the word go and he completed the opening test, the 20.48 kilometre-run through La Mussara, in 11 minutes 17.3 seconds - 1.5 seconds up on his Citroen team-mate, Dani Sordo.
It was in the next test though that he put in a big charge and extended his advantage to 7.4 seconds. He then just edged out Sordo in SS3 to return to the mid-day halt in PortAventura with a 7.5 second lead.
On the repeat loop in the afternoon Loeb continued in a similar vein, 1.3 seconds up on Sordo in SS4, 3.5 seconds ahead in SS5 and the same amount in front in SS6.
The four-time champion will now take a 15.8 second cushion into day 2 and already he is looking well placed to match his wins in Spain from 2007, 2006 and 2005, as well as further increase his advantage in his battle with Mikko Hirvonen for the 2008 drivers' title.
"My car has handled perfectly all day and we didn't make any mistakes, so we will try to make sure things stay that way tomorrow," he vowed.
Dani Sordo meanwhile may not have been able to beat his team-mate on home ground, but he was still the only one that could stay anywhere near the Frenchman and he played the perfect support role.
Indeed, like Loeb, he was 'Mr Consistent' and with second fastest times in every stage, he ensured Citroen finished up one-two, well ahead of the Fords.
"I felt more confident second time round. We continued to push hard to extend our lead over our rivals in third place and the gap now isn't bad. But it's by no means sufficient to start thinking that it's in the bag," Dani noted. "There are still two more tough days to come."
Francois Duval completes the provisional podium, but he is 25.5 seconds off P2, on his first outing under the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT banner – although of course he was apart of the Ford set-up back in 2004.
The Belgian was marginally quicker than Mikko Hirvonen, who is fourth, 44.1 seconds off Loeb and 2.8 seconds off third.
"I had a good battle with Francois, and I'm sure it will be the same tomorrow, but I can't say I enjoyed the day," Hirvonen conceded. "The morning was disappointing which I didn't expect. After the test in Spain last week I felt excited as everything felt good and I thought I'd made a good step in the right direction. I was happier this afternoon and I hope we can do some magic tonight."
Further down the order Petter Solberg is fifth and he posted four top-five times, even though he had brake problems on the repeat loop in the afternoon. The Subaru man was however, no-where near the leaders and is already a minute off Hirvonen.
"The soft tyres didn't work for us this morning and we lost a lot of time, but I felt more comfortable on the second two stages. This afternoon we were faster but the car actually felt harder to drive on the hard tyres," he explained.
Urmo Aava enjoyed a very solid day in his privately entered Citroen C4 WRC and the Estonian was sixth fastest in all the stages. He had a few minor problems in the morning, but is near enough to be able to fight for fifth, just 13.7 seconds adrift of 'Hollywood'.
Jari-Matti Latvala, who has been demoted to the Stobart team for this event - and the one that follows it in France - is also in the thick of the battle for P5, 3.2 seconds off Aava, while Chris Atkinson completes the provisional points' scorers in eighth in the #2 Subaru WRT-run Impreza WRC 2008.
Andreas Mikkelsen had a poor afternoon and slipped to ninth in his Ramsport-run Focus, engine problems hampering his challenge. He had been seventh after the opening three tests.
Britain's Matthew Wilson rounds out the top ten, having gained a spot in SS5, when Toni Gardemeister picked up a puncture and lost around 2 minutes. Gardemeister dropped down to 17th in his Suzuki SX4 WRC.
Of the rest Brice Tirabassi is twelfth on his first outing with the Subaru WRT, while Munchi's Ford WRT duo Federico Villagra and Henning Solberg are 13th and 14th.
Per-Gunnar Andersson and Khalid Al Qassimi were the only two 'works' retirements. P-G went out in the second test of the day when he went off the road and was unable to rejoin, while Al Qassimi retired with differential problems on his way back to the day's final service.
In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Sebastien Ogier has, just like Loeb, his fellow countryman, been in a class of his own. Ogier was quickest in five of the six stages and finishes day 1 more than 40 seconds ahead of fellow Citroen C2 S1600 runner, Martin Prokop.
Alessandro Bettega is third in his Renault, 35 seconds further back, followed by Michal Kosciuszko and Aaron Burkart - Ogier's two main threats for the title. Jaan Molder, Shaun Gallagher and Kevin Abbring came in sixth, seventh and eighth.
The action now continues on Saturday, with three stages - each run twice - and 128 competitive kilometres on the bill. SS7 - El Priorat / La Ribera d'Ebre 1, the longest test of the event at 38.27 kilometres - kicks off the day at 08.44 hours [local time].