Loeb/Elena on top; Sordo/Marti in fifth spot
The opening leg of the 2008 World Rally Championship's fourth round saw Citroen Sport get off to a positive start to celebrate its new livery in the colours of Red Bull. Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena enjoy a lead of more than one minute with their C4 WRC, while a fine run from team-mates Dani Sordo and Marc Marti has taken the second C4 to overnight fifth.
Despite being brought forward one month compared with 2007 to an early southern hemisphere date, this year's Rally Argentina is hardly enjoying an Indian summer. "It's more like Wales in December," quipped Sebastien Loeb at the end of a somewhat wet and dismal day. Yet even though it's hardly been ideal weather for getting out the traditional local asado barbecue, the spectators lined the stages in the sierra above the small town of Cumbre in their usual high numbers. The day's menu comprised four tests contested twice each, before ending with the weekend's first attempt at the Cordoba super-special.
"As is often the case in the heat of the action, today was no stroll," related Sebastien Loeb as night fell over Villa Carlos Paz. "We had to be especially careful this morning because SS1 and SS2 were shrouded in thick fog and visibility was down to just a few metres! The heavy rain has also made the roads extremely slippery, with constant changes in the amount of grip available. At the pace we were going, we could easily have put a foot wrong and I was pleased when we made it back to service with just a small spin and a brush with a post to report!"
After slightly modifying the set-up of his C4 for the afternoon's loop, the defending World Champion moved to the top of the leaderboard after SS5. "The set-up changes we made were very beneficial," he reported. "Once we found ourselves with a reasonably clear lead, we were able to lift a little. I am pleased with the way the day went but this rally is far from over. So much can still happen and the stages promise to stay treacherous all the way through to Sunday afternoon..."
"The conditions were effectively very hazardous," echoed Dani Sordo. "Running ninth on the road this morning meant we were forced to keep to the ruts made by the cars running ahead of us. The ground is very soft and there was precious little grip, so that was real handicap. I am nonetheless happy with my run and I was second quickest on SS4 which was new to me. After making a few adjustments to our set-up for the afternoon with the technical team, our C4 was very competitive and we were battling for a place on the podium when we were slowed by a power steering problem on SS8. There are still two more days to come to try to make up for lost ground and perhaps make it into the top three."
With one C4 in top spot and the other battling for third, Olivier Quesnel was understandably pleased with the situation: "It's been a good day for Citroen Sport," he agreed. "Sebastien and Daniel survived all the pitfalls to take the lead and build up what could be a useful cushion for the rest of the weekend. Dani and Marc also put in a solid performance, gradually upping their pace before slipping back with a problem on SS8 with the provisional podium in their sights. They still have everything to play for, though, and they can still finish in the top-three. The picture is looking good for Citroen at the moment, but there are still two tough days to come, so we need to stay on our guard."