Ireland - day 1: Loeb shows he's the boss
1 January 1901
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb heads the pack in Ireland following the opening leg on Friday, which was cut short due to flooding.
Originally almost 165 competitive kilometres had been on the bill, but unfortunately organisers had to cancel the two evening stages due to torrential rain. As such only six stages ran and Loeb set the pace in all but one of them, winning five on the trot after a slow start.
Seb was only seventh fastest in SS1 this morning after having opted for the standard slick tyre and he described the conditions as 'incredible'.
However, he was back on it in SS2 and SS3, first hauling himself up to second and then cutting the gap to the leader, Urmo Aava, from 22 seconds to just 6.7 seconds in Aughnasheelan 1.
Following the mid-day service in Sligo, the five-time world champion continued to charge in his C4 WRC and now on the winter/snow tyres, he grabbed the lead straight off on the re-run through Glenboy 2.
He then stretched his cushion in SS5 and SS6 to end the day with a 44.4 second lead.
"Yeah, it's going okay," Loeb told the events official website. "I didn't want to push earlier as we didn't have the right tyre so we went carefully, but now we can push hard."
Dani Sordo meanwhile is second in the sister Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC, having moved up a place on the repeat loop.
Sordo began the day with the fifth fastest time, before going fourth in SS2 and SS3. He then set the second best time in every single stage in the afternoon to pull clear of Mikko Hirvonen, who trails the Spaniard by 20.4 seconds overnight.
“On the last two everything was okay,” said Dani. “It feels really good to drive with the snow tyre. The feeling is nice. I'm confident with the car, the tyres, the notes - everything is perfect.”
Hirvonen completes the top three, but disappointingly for the Finn he was unable to match Loeb - and he was also unable to keep up with Sordo on the second loop.
Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg lies fourth - two minutes further back in his Focus and a minute up on Conrad Rautenbach, who currently leads the way for the new Citroen Junior Team.
Henning posted five top six times and given he doesn't have that much experience on asphalt he was very happy with his performance.
Further down the order Sebastien Ogier continues to shine and is sixth, just 4.9 seconds off Rautenbach. Ogier, who of course won the recent Rallye Monte Carlo, started off cautiously, but he gradually upped his pace and having been in P11 post-SS3, now looks set to score some solid points.
Chris Atkinson is seventh and the Aussie had been closer to his two Citroen Junior team-mates, until he aquaplaned in SS6 and spun off the road. That incident left his C4 quite badly damaged and co-driver Stephane Prevot ended the day with a rather sore shoulder.
Britain's Matthew Wilson is on course for the final drivers' point in eighth, just 4.8 seconds off P7. The Englishman slowly increased his pace and ended proceedings with the sixth best time in SS6, his best of the day.
Of the rest Gareth MacHale is ninth, with reigning Irish tarmac champion, Eamonn Boland tenth and Urmo Aava eleventh. Aava had led inititally – as mentioned previously - but went off in SS6 and thus finished the day classified in P11 thanks to the SupeRally rules.
Khalid Al Qassimi rounds out the top twelve, while Aaron MacHale, Alan Ring and Shaun Gallagher are 13th, 14th and 15th respectively.
In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Aaron Burkart took the lead initially and held top spot until what turned out to be the final stage of the day. He now lies second, 1.9 seconds off Hans Weijs. Martin Prokop completes the provisional J-WRC rostrum.
In terms of retirements, in addition to Aava, Ford also lost Jari-Matti Latvala. Latvala led after SS1, but he aquaplaned off the road in the next test. His Focus took a heavy impact to the front left in the incident, puncturing the tyre and breaking both the track control arm and driveshaft.
He dropped almost two minutes and while he made it to the end of SS2 and tried to make repairs, his efforts were in vain. Latvala now hopes to restart on day two under the SupeRally rules.
Another notable casualty was Niall McShea in the new Proton Satria S2000. McShea was third fastest in SS1 and eighth in SS2. However electrical problems forced him to call it a day before SS3.
The action is now due to continue on Saturday, with six stages on the bill and around 133 competitive kilometres. SS9, the 27.76 km Sloughan Glen 1 test, is scheduled to start at 08.13 hours local time.