Skoda Motorsport Team driver Didier Auriol got off to a flying start on the Catalunya Rally, his 150th World Rally Championship event, when he set tenth fastest time over the opening stage of La Trona.

Unfortunately Auriol's luck did not hold out, leaving team-mate Toni Gardemeister to lead the way in 13th position tonight while he finished two places behind.

It was a difficult start to the event as early morning temperatures were barely above zero and the roads were treacherous.

Auriol slipped back on the third stage after cutting a corner too much and breaking the front left wheel rim and he had to nurse the car the remaining eight kilometres to the finish. There was more bad luck when, for the whole of this afternoon's final group of three stages, he had to drive with a damaged turbo waste gate valve that cost a lot of time.

"It really wasn't a nice day at all after a promising start," said the Frenchman, "The problem on the third stage was because I cut a corner. I felt a thump at the front of the car and I realised that I had broken the rim so I had to drive carefully to get the car to the end of the stage without more damage. The turbo problem meant I was driving with smoke and exhaust gasses leaking into the cockpit which is not a pleasant experience."

Gardemeister meanwhile found this morning's stages less to his liking than Auriol as the conditions made the handling of the Fabia WRC inconsistent. Despite this both drivers were able to set times that were again closer to the established asphalt experts than in the past.

"This morning the car was unbalanced and did not give me confidence to drive flat out on the damp roads," noted Finn, "We changed the suspension settings and that got the car back to how it was in Corsica."

Director of Skoda Motorsport Petr Kohoutek added: "The positive news from today is that we have confirmed the improvements made to the car in Corsica. However, we have also had a lot of bad luck that has meant our overall position tonight does not accurately reflect those improvements."



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