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Britain - day 1: Loeb in P1 in Wales

23 October 2009

Multiple World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb has ended the opening day of the Rally of Great Britain at the top of the leaderboard, and currently on course to beat Mikko Hirvonen and win the 2009 WRC drivers' title.

Loeb took the lead in the first stage this morning, when he was 1.7 seconds up on Hirvonen through Hafren 1. The Frenchman then proceeded to increase his cushion in SS2 and SS3 to head into the mid-day halt 8.9 seconds ahead.

However this afternoon on the repeat loop, Loeb saw his advantage slashed to just 4 seconds in SS4 and while he increased the margin to 6.4 seconds in SS5, he lost out again in SS6. Consequently he ended the opening day only 5.3 seconds ahead and as such Hirvonen remains a big threat.

“I thought I was much more slower in SS6 than that. I found no grip in the middle of the stage but I was determined to be first on the road tomorrow,” said Loeb.

“We are trying to fight back,” Hirvonen added. “It is getting very exciting and it was slippery towards the end of the last stage today when the rain started falling. It looks set for a good fight tomorrow.”

Petter Solberg meanwhile is third and set for the final place on the podium on what is only his second competitive outing in the Citroen C4 WRC (and his first under the Citroen Junior Team banner).

Solberg battled with Dani Sordo for P3 all day long, and following the first 130-odd kilometres, just 1.1 seconds separates the two, 'Hollywood' having edged ahead slightly in Sweet Lamb 2 and Myherin 2, when he was second and third fastest respectively.

“I'm very, very happy,” said Petter. “It has been hard but we have been getting better all day and we are really close to the two in front of us. They are fighting for the World Championship, but we are very happy to be in third.”

Sordo continued: “The rain made it difficult towards the end but I am happy with my pace. We are having a big battle with Petter but the other two have their own pace.”

Next up is Sebastien Ogier to give Citroen four of the top five positions - although the 2008 Junior World Rally champion is almost 2 minutes further back, a poor time in the final test of the day costing him 30 seconds.

“The suspension seems okay and we are changing the tyre now,” said Ogier after his adventures in Myherin 2.

Further down the order, Stobart Ford duo, Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson come in sixth and seventh, the former just 8.8 seconds off P5. Wilson is another 30 seconds back having initially complained of a lack of power and subsequently of handling problems.

“It hasn't been a great start,” Wilson reflected. “The car feels very slow in the slow corners, it is not pulling well and we are struggling for traction. It's fine on the fast sections, but whenever it's slow we're not getting any traction at all so I think we've got a problem with the front diff. We lost a bucket load on Sweet Lamb so it's really disappointing.

“We'll have a good look tonight, probably change the gearbox and hopefully we'll sort it for tomorrow. The stages are good but the conditions out there are changing all the time with fog and rain so it's been a tough start.”

“We've had an engine problem but I'm still not exactly sure what it is yet although I think it might be to do with the rain earlier,” Henning related when asked about his own day. “It began at the start of the first stage and it comes and goes. It felt like we are running on three cylinders for at least two thirds of the first stage and it is still misfiring.

“I tried my best all day. I am happy with my driving and the car is working really well except for the misfire. Hopefully they'll be able to fix it tonight and tomorrow I can try and catch Ogier.”

Conrad Rautenbach rounds out the provisional points' scorers, with Jari-Matti Latvala a disappointing ninth after he broke a front left driveshaft in Hafren 1. Latvala then had to limp his way through SS2 and SS3, losing around four minutes in the process.

"It was a frustrating morning," said Latvala. "After about 24km of the first stage I turned into a corner and the front left driveshaft broke and the car spun. I don't know how it happened.

“The brake pipe was also damaged and the fluid leaked out, so I had to drive the rest of the morning with just rear-wheel drive and no brakes at the front. I had a few close escapes as a result and nudged a bank in the second test.

“We don't carry a spare driveshaft in the car, and we're only allowed to replace parts that we have onboard."

Of the rest, Eyvind Brynildsen is tenth, followed by Aaron Burkart, Jarkko Nikara, Patrik Sandell and Martin Prokop. Brynildsen incidentally heads the Production Car World Rally Championship category in his Skoda Fabia S2000, almost a minute up on Sandell, his closest class rival.

“This has been an unbelievable day,” said Brynildsen. “We are flying through the forests!”

In terms of retirements, the biggest casualty was Adapta Subaru Impreza WRC man Mads Ostberg, who was forced out after SS3 with suspension damage.

The action now continues on Saturday, with SS7, Rhondda 1 (35.72km) – the longest test of the event, set to start at 08.35 hours [local time]. Day two consists of three different stages, with the afternoon loop, like today, a repeat of the morning. In total around 138 competitive kilometres will be run.


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