Day 1 : Battle between title candidates Loix and Meeke
Day one of the Belgium Ypres Rally and the spectators came down in large numbers to the Ypres region and to Lille-Metropole to savour the show put up by the gladiators of the 21st century. The great weather was perfect and allowed the drivers to get the best out of their machines.
We had the fortune of greeting a large number of top drivers on the starting grid who all straight away showed their metal finishing within seconds of eachother. The race for the win unfortunately will be less open than expected. It seems to come down to three drivers only. Ahead of the pack we have Freddy Loix, holder of the record number of victories in Ypres, and Kris Meeke. Both drive a Peugeot 207 of the Kronos team and they are actually the two main contenders for the IRC 2009 title. Loix managed to build a lead of 7" over Meeke but then lost two seconds in the dark night of the last stage of the day.
Just behind them we have Jan Kopecky. He is conceding only 13" to the two leaders and actually silently sneaked up on them, ready to pounce if either makes a mistake.
Quite some distance behind the leaders, we have a three way fight for fourth position between Giandomenico Basso, Juho Hanninen and Pieter Tsjoen, all three having had a fairly trouble-free run today. Originally, there was a fourth musketeer: the man of St-Vith, Thierry Neuville. On the fourth stage he had a spin and on the fifth one a mistake suddenly saw him getting engine problems. As the oil pressure gauge of the Peugeot indicated zero, he decided to retire.
There would sure have been some more drivers who could have aimed at a Top 5 spot but this first 'short' day turned out to be pretty lethal for many. The first victim was the top candidate Francois Duval. The Skoda started on hard rubbers whereas Duval himself preferred intermediates. The Czech full blood took a dive in a ditch at the first corner-- Next up was Patrick Snijers. The rev-limiter interfering at 6500 rpm instead of 8500 rpm sure did not help and the tall guy was losing tens of seconds before breaking a suspension element after a small accident with his Polo. Nicolas Vouilloz got caught out on stage one too and lost 2'53", enough to lose all hope to win the event. Next victim claimed by this same stage was Alex Bengue with a broken engine in the Corsa. Guy Wilks would retire on this same stage during the second run through as he waltzed into the scenery with his Proton Satria. Bernd Casier also did not enjoy a trouble-free run. He was originally positioned 3" behind team leader and 2007 winner Basso. That was until the fire extinguisher decided the cabin was too hot during the stage-- Casier next lost a lot of time due to a broken driveshaft.
Jasper Van den Heuvel took advantage of the situation by posting his group N car in seventh position ahead of Wittman. Other losers today were Melissa Debackere (engine failure), Paul Lietaer (broken gearbox) and David Bonjean, who went to camp in a ditch for 9 full minutes.