Citroen's Sebastien Loeb leads Rally de Espana following the opening loop of three stages this morning.
Loeb moved into P1 in the very first test, when he was 7.4 seconds quicker than his closest rival. Although the Frenchman was first on the road and had to sweep the line, for once this actually proved to his advantage, as his rivals lost time in the hanging dust clouds, which severely limited visibility.
Loeb then maintained his position in SS2 and SS3, where the dust continued to be a problem, setting the second and third quickest times respectively, to return to the mid-day service halt with a 5.3 second advantage.
“I've cleaned the road on several occasions this season, but for once I can say that it's been an advantage,” Loeb said. “It's great to be in the lead at midday.
“We risk losing time this afternoon as the sweeping phenomenon is an important factor, especially on the third stage, which is narrow and slow with a lot of quick bursts of acceleration and very little grip. We're going to have to push hard as what we lose on gravel will be difficult to make up on tarmac.”
Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile is best of the rest for the Ford Abu Dhabi WRT, and while he lost time to Loeb in SS1 and SS2, he hit back in SS3 and reduced the margin by 3.6 seconds.
“It was cold and still this morning and the dust hung in the air,” said the Crash.net
columnist. “I tried to balance bravery with caution but I had a few close escapes in the second stage. In a long left corner the car slid into a ditch and luckily I was able to get out without losing any time, but some branches broke the rear spoiler.
“The car felt good and I gave myself 8.5 out of 10 this morning, but I need to stop the small errors.”
Sebastien Ogier is next up, 6.6 seconds back in third, and after starting cautiously in SS1, he was quickest in SS2 and SS3.
“In the first stage we couldn't see anything because of the dust thrown up by the cars in front of us,” Ogier said. “The further we drove the more the sunrise that was straight in our eyes made things difficult. Some of the clouds of dust were really thick, and we had to brake on the straights as it was impossible to know where we were. The main cause is the humidity. I hope this isn't going to happen again in the last stage, which is being run at night.”
Mikko Hirvonen lies fourth, although he has not had the best of starts and is already 24.6 seconds off P3 – and 36.5 seconds off the lead, an off in SS1 having dented his confidence.
“I was too cautious and now I need to attack to pull time back. I tried to take risks but I couldn't see enough to do that and made a mistake in the first stage. That made me even more cautious,” he confirmed.