Sebastien Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena are back on tarmac, and of course the Frenchmen for the Citroen works team are the early leaders on the first day in this weekend’s FIA World Rally Championship round in Germany. They ended the first day of Rallye Deutschland with four of the six stage wins and besting Petter Solberg by 20.4 seconds.
Loeb handled the roads in the Mosel vineyards like fine wine to build up a commanding lead in their Citroen DS3. The eight times champions headed out on a semi-wet first special stage after the overnight rain showers, and they set the fastest time by 5.2 seconds over the Norwegian. The rest of the day was contested on dry roads, which meant tyre choice was critical for the morning stages.
The overall WRC points leader choose the Michelin hard tyres, and at the mid-way point, Loeb commented: “It’s a little bit trickier this year, because we are running the stages in the opposite direction to usual and so we have had to re-familiarize ourselves with the pitfalls of these roads,” noted the rally leader. “The quick sections are narrow and lined with pavements, and the hairpins break up the rhythm. Things are going well for us though, as we haven’t had any real scares.”
Solberg put up a good fight in his Ford factory team’s Fiesta RS, and while he did not win a single stage today, he was able to stay within striking distance of the Frenchman. Loeb commented, “The road was pretty dry and dusty on the second runs, but everything went well. Overall, it’s been a perfect day for us. Although I controlled the race from the front today and I already have a significant lead over my closest challengers, I’m certainly not out of the woods yet, especially with two runs on Panzerplatte scheduled tomorrow.”
The Norwegian also choose the hard tyres and he said, “My experience of driving the Fiesta RS WRC on asphalt is relatively small, so I’m still getting used to the car on this surface. Considering that, I’m very happy with my performance. I could have pushed harder, but it was important to establish a good feeling and not take too many risks. You have to be smart here.
Solberg added, “I lost a few seconds but this morning but this afternoon was perfect and the car was fantastic. Tomorrow is a long day with some difficult stages so it will be important not to do anything crazy.”
After Loeb dominated the morning runs, the second pass of the same three stages were dominated by Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala; the Finn took two of the three afternoon wins. Latvala was third at the mid-point and remained there despite his push later in the day.
The Finn opted for a soft setup on his Ford Fiesta RS which left him dealing with muddy and slippery route in the morning but for the second pass later in the day, he used the harder tyre. Placing third overall, Latvala said, “When I was fastest in stage four, I had two lucky escapes when I was off the road and almost ‘lost’ the car. Afterwards Miikka and I agreed it was time to calm down otherwise we wouldn’t finish the rally.
“I tried to find a comfortable feeling, but eased off too much, braked too early and didn’t realise how much time I was losing. I found a good compromise on the last stage and was fastest again. Tomorrow is the key day of this event and I’m looking forward to the long stages at the Baumholder military land. I enjoy those roads,” he added.