Nicolas Vouilloz and Giandomenico Basso exactly level!
Wet, extremely unsettled weather ensured that tyres were the main topic of conversation for most of the first leg of the 2008 Rally Principe de Asturias, with tyre calls especially complex for the final loop. After more than 130km of competitive action, Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) and Giandomenico Basso (Abarth/BFGoodrich) are exactly level at the top the this evening's leaderboard . Freddy Loix follows in third place, 24.5s down, while Sergio Vallejo figures inside the provisional top-ten at the wheel of the BFGoodrich Drivers Team Peugeot 207 S2000.
It was raining heavily as competitors got up early to choose their tyres in the service park at La Morgal for the first two stages of today's interminable, 16-hour programme. All the BFGoodrich runners went for the g-Force Profiler M01 intermediate tyres, some of which sported extra grooves in their tread pattern as a function of the latest weather information reported by their respective teams.
A break in the rain towards the middle of the day saw the stages start to dry out, but ominous clouds began to gather again as crews prepared for the day's last two stages,making tyre choice once again very difficult. The BFGoodrich runners had three types of tyre and a variety of 'cut' options available to them: a 're-cut'A03 for the dry, the M01 intermediate (with or without extra grooves) and the W00 rain tyre--
Prior to the final loop, Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) headed Giandomenico Basso (Abarth/BFGoodrich) by 17.4 seconds and his team-mate Freddy Loix by 47.5 seconds. The Abarth driver had got off to a flying start, winning the first two stages, but the Frenchman swiftly retaliated on the rally's longest test(SS4). The 30km run between Pajomal and La Rasa saw him beat Loix by more than 11 seconds, Basso by 17s and the defending IRC Champion and last year's Principe de Asturias winner Enrique Garcia Ojeda by a rate of one second per kilometre.
Tyre choices for the day's final loop consequently promised to becrucial. Basso went for the intermediate choice (M01), the same tyre that had helped him claim SS7. Vouilloz plumped for the more conservative option of the W00 rain tyre, while Loix opted for an aggressive strategy by nominating 're -cut'A03s. This meant that each of the top three drivers were on different tyres, which pointed to a particularly thrilling finale to the day's sport--
In the end, the advantage over the 11.25km of SS8 went to Loix, ahead of Basso and Vouilloz. On the final stage of the day (SS9), Basso was already four seconds up on the leader after the first seven kilometres. By Km20, the works Abarth driver had gained nine seconds and, at the end of the 26.86km test, there was absolutely nothing in it between Nicolas Vouilloz and Giandomenico Basso who completed the opening leg exactly equal! Freddy Loix profited from his re-cut A03 tyres to clinch both stages and close to within 24.5s of the leading duo. Dani Sola, whose Abarth now runs on BFGoodrich tyres, is fourth overall this evening and currently the best-placed Spanish driver, ahead of Garcia Ojeda (Peugeot/BFGoodrich). Sergio Vallejo is ninth in the BFGoodrich Drivers Team Peugeot 207 S2000, 5.5s behind fellow Spaniard Luis Monzon, two-time previous winner of this rally.
Nicolas Vouilloz (1st, Peugeot/BFGoodrich):
"For this morning's stages, we chose re-cut BFGoodrich g-Force Profiler M01 tyres with a circumferential groove to enhance their water clearance capacity. This is a new very soft compound tyre and I felt really comfortable with it throughout SS4. We were able to push hard to pull out a useful gap over our closest rivals. This evening's call was more complex, and I finally opted for rain tyres. We were expecting rain, but it never came. Never mind, we're still in the fight for victory."
Freddy Loix (3rd, Peugeot/BFGoodrich):
"I got my tyre choice right for this evening's stages and I really wanted to make up the 20 or so seconds I lost in a 'straight on' this afternoon. It was my first mistake this season! It wasn't easy on re- cut dry weather tyres. The conditions were very tricky and I took a few risks, but I am very happy with the result."
Giandomenico Basso (2nd, Abarth/BFGoodrich)
"The day started well-- and ended well. We're in the lead and my car performed perfectly. Following our disappointment on the Barum Rally Zlin, today has been a great morale booster for everyone in the team."
Dani Sola (4th, Abarth/BFGoodrich)
"This is my first asphalt event with the Abarth in weather like this, and the BFGoodrich tyres were new to me, too. They were really performed well in today's difficultconditions."
Patrick Letort (Chief Technician, BFGoodrich):
"The changeable weather made the first leg very difficult. Our drivers chose the M01 intermediate tyre for most of the day, except for the three Peugeot Sport Espana drivers who opted for the W00 rain tyre for the second loop (SS3/4/5). The choice between the re-cut A03 dry weather tyre, the M01 intermediate tyre and the W00 rain tyre was more delicate for this evening's two stages. Freddy Loix demonstrated that the best choice was the re-cut A03 by winning both tests."