Local hero Salvador Canellas has brought his Suzuki Ignis home in third place overall at the end of the opening leg of the Catalunya Rally, just over a minute off the lead of the event.

Daniel Carlsson's Suzuki is just 14 seconds behind him in fourth, while the Suzuki of Urmo Aava is seventh and the similar Ignis of Ville-Pertti Teuronen is in a points-scoring eighth place.

Catalunya is the penultimate round of the Junior World Rally Championship [JWRC], and the fastest asphalt rally in the entire series. The roads are fast and sweeping, meaning that accurate pace notes are essential to describe the quickest lines through corners. Some early morning mist soon gave way to dry roads, and the weather remained bright but cold for the rest of the day. Today's action consisted of eight asphalt stages run around the town of Vic, making a total competitive distance of 146.36km.

Carlsson said his rally was getting better all the time, although he suffered a couple of irritating problems in the morning. Over the opening loop of stages his car was not shifting gear cleanly, which caused him to drop a bit of time. Then on the middle loop of stages he had an uncertain feeling with the brakes, which he thought might have been down to not having bedded them in properly. On the final loop of stages he had no problems and he is looking forward to another challenging day tomorrow.

"The best way to describe today is that it went up and up - it's always nice to make progress," said Carlsson. "The car felt very good, even though we didn't have an entirely clean run in the morning. The stages are really quite different to the ones in Sanremo; you have to concentrate extremely hard. But we're in a very good position to try and improve our situation tomorrow, and that will be the clear aim."

Teuronen had no mechanical problems today, but suffered a lack of confidence due to his inexperience of this type of event. On the stages this morning he struggled to find a rhythm, and he admitted that this type of event was still a steep learning curve.

"I don't know why, but I've just not settled into this rally for some reason," he said, "I'm not at all happy, and I'm going to have to think hard about what I can do tomorrow. I know I'm not driving to the capabilities of the car, and maybe that is just down to my inexperience. On a positive note, I had a similar feeling at the start of Sanremo, which then got better for me. Also I'm working very well together with my new co-driver, Mikko Markkula. Hopefully our times will be better tomorrow."

Canellas was one of the event's biggest heroes, as thousands of his home fans cheered him on through every stage today. He mentioned that at times the support was almost overwhelming. He struggled a little bit with understeer on the morning's loop of stages, but was able to push very hard throughout the remainder of the day. His Ignis was reliable throughout today's tough opening leg, although he had a slight gearbox problem on the last three stages that made downchanges tricky.

"It's been a very good and emotional experience today: it's fantastic to drive in front of your home crowd," commented Canellas, "I know the Spanish people would all like me to do well, but the truth is that we were always going to have a tough job with such strong opposition. I've been driving flat-out all day - there's nothing left to come - so we will also have to rely on a little bit of luck to move up the leaderboard."

Aava wasn't especially happy with his times this morning, and he made a couple of small set-up changes to try and improve the situation. He wanted to push harder in order not to lose touch with the leaders, but also decided that it was important for him to finish the event and not take too many risks. Aava also felt that he was lacking in asphalt experience compared to some of his rivals, and had a huge sideways moment in fifth gear on the last loop of stages.

"It's difficult to find the right balance between pushing hard and making sure that you finish event," noted Aava, "I've been slightly frustrated by our performance so far today because I felt that we could have gone quicker. But I'm certainly learning more about asphalt all the time and I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

Monster Sport Europe team manager Risto Laine concluded: "So far we're looking good and we've had no major problems. It's been irritating that we've had a couple of small problems that have held back Salvador, but it would have been difficult to have done something about the Renault of [Brice] Tirabassi anyway - he's going really quickly. That certainly doesn't mean we're giving up though: expect another big fight tomorrow!"

Tomorrow the drivers will tackle eight more stages, totalling 131 competitive kilometres. The first car leaves parc ferme at 0700 (CET) and returns to Lloret de Mar at 1808. The weather could well be unpredictable, with rain being a distinct possibility.

 

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