Peugeot-Belux and BFGoodrich take control
Peugeot-Belux team-mates Freddy Loix and Nicolas Vouilloz emerged as the dominating forces throughout the opening day of the 2008 Barum Rally Zlin which turned out to be a nightmare for local stars Roman Kresta (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) and Vaclav Pech (Mitsubishi/BFGoodrich). The BFGoodrich Drivers Team representative Pavel Valousek was more fortunate than his fellow Czechs, however, and figures in fifth place this evening with his Peugeot 207 S2000. Both factory Abarth/BFGoodrich drivers (Alen and Basso) have retired.
As in 2007, Friday evening's super-special through the streets of Zlin in front of thousands of spectators was won by Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot/BFGoodrich), but it was only this morning that serious business kicked off with an initial loop of four stages - including two classics, Pindula and Trojak - which the vast majority of BFGoodrich runners tackled on hard compound g-Force Profiler A10 tyres.
Pindula (SS2) lived up its reputation by producing an early retirement amongst the favourites in the person of Roman Kresta. The former Ford works WRC driver crashed out heavily 6.5km after the start, destroying his Peugeot 207 S2000/BFGoodrich. The Trojak test (SS5) proved fatal to another front- runner, Kresta's main Czech championship rivalVaclav Pech (Mitsubishi/BFGoodrich, gearbox) who had been fifth overall after SS4.
Meanwhile, the Peugeot-Belux pair was enjoying a near-faultless day. Last year's winnerNicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) led until the lunch break which he reached with a 4.7-second advantage over his team-mate Freddy Loix. Rossetti, Bouffier, Garcia Ojeda, Valousek and Toth tucked in behind their wake to make it no fewer than seven Peugeot/BFGoodrich in the top seven places overall. In contrast, Abarth/BFGoodrich's rankswere decimated by the successive losses of Anton Alen and Giandomenico Basso (gearbox).
Best times for Freddy Loix on the morning's first two stagesrevealed the Belgian's intention of resuming where he had left off this time last year when he was sidelined while leading before hitting trouble. He followed up his morning's run with three further fastest times over the afternoon's loop to ease ahead after SS6 and ultimately end the leg four seconds clear of Vouilloz. Italy'sLuca Rossetti followed up his cautious early start to join the Belux pair on the provisional podium, ahead of Frenchman Bryan Bouffier (the 2007 Polish Champion) and the defending IRC champ Enrique Garcia Ojeda who were busy battling in the wake of the top-three. The day's final test saw Rossetti go off and pick up a puncture, however, losing him some three minutes.
The BFGoodrich Drivers Team representative Pavel Valousek was rewarded for his quick and consistent run with a brief spell in fourth place after SS2 (Pindula) before completing the leg in fifth spot. He is also the only Czech driver to figure inside the overnight top-ten which is monopolised by BFGoodrich runners, eight of whom are Peugeot 207 S2000 drivers, plus Travaglia (7th) in his Abarth Grande Punto and Belgium'sBernd Casier (10th) in his Polo S2000.
Freddy Loix (1st, Peugeot/BFGoodrich):
"It's been agreat day for me. The stages were tricky and very bumpy, but they were the same for everyone. It'sa close run thing and we pushed hard this afternoon. I used the hard compound g-Force Profiler A10 tyre for both loops."
Renato Travaglia (7th, Abarth/BFGoodrich):
"The weather was cloudy this morning, so I chose g-Force Profiler A03 tyres-- but it didn't rain. I could feel my car moving around towards the end of the loop. I switched to the hard compound A10 for the afternoon but the set-up of my car wasn't really ideal. Too bad. I will try to gain a few places tomorrow."
Luca Rossetti (8th, Peugeot/BFGoodrich)
"I wasn't going too badly until thefinal stage when I went off and picked up a puncture in the process. It must have cost me more than three minutes. I will do what I can to make up for that lost ground tomorrow."
Patrick Letort (Chief Technician, BFGoodrich):
"With two difficult loops totalling more than 70km each, and with ground temperatures around the 30C mark, today's legwas extremely hard on tyres, but the BFGoodrich products held up very well. All the BFGoodrich drivers, except Renato Travaglia this morning, chose the hard compound g-Force Profiler A10 for both loops. We didn't see anyworrying signs of wear and our drivers found the their tyres to be consistent over the full length of both loops, even though the times were much faster second time round. Tomorrow's stages are wider andshould be less hard on the tyres."