16 September 2005
Loeb vs. Solberg on Rally GB - take three!
Sebastien Loeb and Petter Solberg look set to again battle it out for the honours on the Wales Rally GB, following the opening loop of the event Friday.
Like in 2004 and 2003, Loeb and Solberg are now the only real contenders for the win and as has been the case more often than not this year, the former has ended the opening day in the lead in his Citroen Xsara.
All pretty much a case of déjà vu!
Loeb heads into the overnight service with a 9.9 second advantage, having won two of the day's six tests and been second quickest in three others and sixth quickest in SS6.
He had two main issues - a spin in SS2 and a 10 second time penalty after leaving the mid-day service late. Controversially though, the Xsara arrived at the time control close to the time limit and it was the ideal time that was initially marked on the timecard - later though the stewards seemingly changed their minds.
"It must have been outside factors that led the marshals to make the change," observed Citroen boss, Guy Frequelin.
Solberg meanwhile had only one real problem, when he spun in his Subaru Impreza in SS2 - the same one that Loeb also had problems in. That incident cost the Norwegian around 12 seconds.
The opening leg Friday dawned dry and sunny, but following torrential rain on Thursday some of the earlier tests in the morning were still damp in places and in others extremely muddy, especially under the trees. By this afternoon they had dried out considerably.
Marcus Gronholm took the first stage for Peugeot to stake his claim for the victory however his hopes disappeared on SS2, when he had brakes problems dropping him right down the order to 19th. The Finn recovered later on in the day to climb back to fourth, going quickest in SS5 and SS6, but he is now over a minute off the battle for the win and realistically not in contention.
Harri Rovanpera heads the chasing pack after Loeb and Solberg, around 10 seconds further adrift of 'Hollywood'. Rovanpera has enjoyed one of his best starts' of the year and looks well placed to take the final spot on the podium. The Mitsubishi driver set a string of fastest stages time and was quickest overall on the first run through Trawscoed [SS2], although he is likely to come under a lot of pressure from Gronholm.
Furtherdown the field Francois Duval lies fifth, another that has impressed, the Belgian going well in the sister Xsara. His only problem came at the start of SS2 when he dropped 10 seconds as his launch control system failed to engage. He is around 9 seconds up on Chris Atkinson, who is making his debut on this event in the second Impreza nominated for manufacturer points. Atkinson showed real class and maintained sixth despite a puncture in the last test.
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