Frenchman Sebastien Loeb grabbed the early lead in his home rally, Tour de Corse, on the first day of competition in the fifth round of the World Rally Championship. Loeb opened the day with the fastest time on the Ampaza - Col St Eustache SS1,...
Frenchman Sebastien Loeb grabbed the early lead in his home rally, Tour de Corse, on the first day of competition in the fifth round of the World Rally Championship.
Loeb opened the day with the fastest time on the Ampaza - Col St Eustache SS1, over eight seconds ahead of the man who is becoming his main rival for this year's title, Marcus Gronholm.
"On the Catalunya Rally, as soon as I found a set-up that suited me, Marcus hit problems," reflected Loeb. "So I was very curious to see what would happen here. It's exactly as I expected. The battle is very close, with a Xsara that is on fighting form. Of course, I had to mount a proper attack. I had to brake late and not give an inch for corner after corner. It's certainly tight. But I had no real scares, and we have to try and keep going at this rhythm."
The Finn answered back on the next special, beating the defending champion by 3.4-seconds. Loeb, driving last year's Citroen Xsara for the privateer Kronos Racing team now had only a five second edge on the Ford factory top seed driver.
Gronholm did one of his super drives as he handled a brake problem today: "The car didn't feel as precise as I would like because the pressure in the rear tyres was too high towards the end of the first stage," he said. "We had a small problem with the brakes. The road was extremely bumpy towards the end and I did a lot of braking with my left foot, which I think affected the pressure at the back. Everything was OK for the first 20km but then the brake pedal became 'long' and the car became slightly unstable," explained the Finn.
And then came the second pass of Ampaza - Col St Eustache which once again, the French racer showcased his ability on the special, this time edging out the Ford Focus RS WRC 06 driver by nearly 11 seconds. The stage was set for the second run through Aullene - Arbellara special, the final stage on Friday.
This time Loeb sat the fastest time by 4.4-seconds, to end the day with three stage wins and an edge over Gronholm by 20 seconds. The Finn and the Frenchman will once again do battle on a WRC event this season. Gronholm has nearly one minute edge over Alex Bengue, who sits third in a privateer Peugeot 307 WRC.
Running out the top five with were Mikko Hirvonen, the young driver in the Ford camp and Kronos Racing's young racer Dani Sordo.
Again, Petter Solberg had early problems in his factory Subaru Impreza WRC, dashing hopes of possibly scoring much needed points for the championship. First, the Norwegian spun on SS1, losing 45 seconds with a exhaust issue. On the following special, Solberg's Subaru had a gear selection problems cosine him dearly. He finished the first leg back in 14th overall and over three minutes adrift of Loeb.
"Well, not the best. We've had better days of course, and with all the problems we've had it's been very difficult," Solberg stated. "We changed the gearbox earlier and the replacement is a slightly different specification. The car wasn't as easy to drive in the afternoon and we had to try some different settings to compensate, but that's how it is. Tomorrow's another day and we'll do all we can to improve on our position."