Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb
appears to be in control of the Rally Italia Sardinia following day one today [Friday], the Frenchman having stamped his authority on proceedings, despite an early challenge from Marcus Gronholm.
Loeb ended the day with a more than comfortable margin over Petter Solberg, who is second some 30-seconds behind, after around 140 competitive kilometres, set out over two loops of three stages.
The reigning champion, despite a bit of a slow start - he was only ninth fastest through SS1, went on to win four of the five remaining tests, and was second through the other.
"It only took a couple of corners for me to realise that the suspension settings were a bit too soft [this morning on SS1] since the rear tended to float about too much," he explained. "Between SS1 and SS2, I adjusted the front and rear shock absorber settings by a number of clicks and immediately knew on SS2 that we had gone in the right direction, as revealed by our splits and fastest times over the last two stages of the first loop!"
Solberg meanwhile did well to remain in contention, especially as he was hampered by running first on the road. He slid off briefly on both the opening two stages but climbed back from sixth to second at the end of the day. The Norwegian will be hoping he take the fight to Loeb tomorrow, over the longest leg of the event.
"I'm very pleased to finish today in second place. Sebastien has done a good job and I've been working very hard out there, let me tell you," said 'Hollywood'. "First on the road here is a very tough place to be, it is so slippery and I had a couple of spins in the morning. Since then, we've had a few things to contend with like no brakes for some of SS4 and a very difficult road surface for our tyres, but that's how it is in rallying and we just have to deal with it."
The big surprise though was Subaru reject Mikko Hirvonen, the Finn enjoying a fantastic day, to round out the provisional top three in his privateer Focus. The fact he was ahead of Ford works driver, Toni Gardemeister, who lies fifth overall, and way ahead of Roman Kresta, who is down in eleventh, in the second Focus nominated to score manufacturer points, will no doubt have given team boss, Malcolm Wilson food for thought.
"The car is easy to drive, exactly how I wanted it. I gained an awful lot from my road position this morning," noted Hirvonen. "I had a few lucky escapes but I tried to drive neatly through the corners and then flat out everywhere else, even over all the rocks and the rough sections. I will try to keep the same pace tomorrow but I'm sure Toni will trying just as hard to catch me."
Harri Rovanpera was sandwiched between the Ford's Hirvonen and Gardemeister in fourth, after front punctures on the second and third stages, which somewhat hampered his charge.