With today's six stages of the Rally GB completed, the Skoda Motorsport Team emerged from the opening leg battered but intact after a day of intense drama.

Didier Auriol is 14th and Toni Gardemeister is 18th.

Gardemeister has shown incredible speed with the Fabia WRC during the day but has also suffered some frustrating problems that have denied him an overall position to match his performance.

He damaged the exhaust on the opening stage of the day that left the Fabia WRC down on power and overheated the engine. He had to top up the radiator with water from the windscreen washer bottle. At service the mechanics carried out repairs but a problem with the starter motor meant he was late leaving for SS4, collecting 2mins 10secs penalty as a result.

Ninth fastest time on SS3 had pushed the Finn into the top ten of the event but the penalty dropped him down the order again. Gardemeister was still able to show the potential of the Fabia WRC, thrilling the thousands of fans that had filled the specially created spectator area in the middle of SS4 Rheola with his flat-out style on the way to seventh fastest time.

"It has been a frustrating day because our overall position does not really reflect our performance on the stages," said Gardemeister, "I drove at 110 per cent and we saw how fast the Fabia WRC can be on gravel. Seventh fastest on SS4 was great and I might have been as quick on SS5 but I hit a bump so hard that the front spoiler came off, got stuck on top of the bonnet and I couldn't really see where I was going!"

Transmission problems forced him to limp through today's final forest stage and he emerged in 19th place. Following the second run through the Cardiff Super Special he was 18th.

Didier Auriol meanwhile has not been able to find the right settings for the conditions and has suffered from both understeer and oversteer although tonight his Fabia WRC is 14th overall and still in the manufacturers' points scoring positions with Gardemeister just one place outside the points.

"It's a bit of a mystery because we can't seem to find a solution," said the Frenchman, "Possibly it is an electronic problem so must look hard to solve it."

Director of Skoda Motorsport Petr Kohoutek added: "It has been a typically difficult day on this rally and we could easily have been in the top ten tonight. Unfortunately both drivers have suffered technical problems that have held them back from the result they deserved."

Czech driver Jan Kopecky, driving the factory-supported Skoda Matador Team's Octavia WRC endured a difficult start to his second World Championship rally this season. He damaged the exhaust when he hit a rock on SS3 and the hot gasses set the rear bumper alight, forcing him to stop on the stage to assess the damage. Transmission problems also affected his performance and tonight he lies 33rd overall.

"It hasn't been the best start but I hope that the technical problems are now behind us," said Kopecky, "I was 18th fastest on SS6 and that gave my confidence a real boost for the rest of the rally."

Tomorrow's second leg of the event heads to the rally's most northerly stages in the Brecon Beacons. The route includes two runs over the stage where Marcus Gronholm crashed spectacularly last year on a rare piece of asphalt in this otherwise gravel rally. Crews also tackle Margam Forest and Margam Park, two famous stages where drama often happens. The 138.71kms leg ends with the third and final visit to the Cardiff City Centre superspecial where another 10,000 capacity crowd will gather to see the head to head action.



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