Frenchman Sebastien Loeb
set about making up for the disappointment of not scoring any points in Corsica last weekend by leading Rallye Catalunya at the end of leg one.
This penultimate round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship started from Lloret de Mar early this morning and took crews north of the coastal resort and into the stages surrounding the town of Vic.
Fastest out of the blocks in SS1 was Subaru's Petter Solberg. Unfortunately for the Norwegian he dropped to third on the next two tests and then out of the top ten altogether when the team was forced to change the alternator on his Impreza at the cost of 50 seconds of road penalties.
Throughout this drama, Loeb was turning in another accomplished drive. The Citroen
Xsara WRC pilot was faultless over the eight stages and arrived back in Lloret this evening with a 26.2-second lead over his team-mate Carlos Sainz.
Sainz's day was similarly trouble-free in his Citroen. Markko Martin put in a sterling effort to bring his Ford Focus to an overnight third, given the problems the Estonian was having with his neck muscles, a legacy of the heavy crash which ended his run in Corsica just five days ago.
All four Citroen
Xsara WRCs ran without technical problems through leg 1, although Philippe Bugalski did not like the new shock absorbers which were fitted to his car for the first three stages of the rally.
Loeb moved into the lead on the second stage. The Frenchman's only problem through the opening loop was to find a rock on the line he was taking through the stage. His concern about possible damage to the car was unfounded and he continued to set the pace on the opening leg.
"We have been pushing very hard today," said Loeb, "The problem with the rock this morning shows that you do need some luck some times. The rock hit the sump guard and knocked the front of the car into the air, then I heard it hit something on the left-rear – but we got away with it."
Sainz admitted he was trying all he knew to keep up and try to pass his team-mate, but at the same time Sainz pointed out it was a fine line between pushing to the limit and going over it. The championship leader held second position for the majority of this first day of Rallye Catalunya.