Loeb halted, Duval 2nd overall
At the end of the opening leg of the 2005 Rally Australia, François Duval and Sven Smeets returned to Langley Park in 2nd position. Earlier in the afternoon, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena had just taken the lead thanks to a fastest time in 'Beraking' (SS8) -- despite hitting a kangaroo -- when they were stopped after going off on 'Flynns' (SS9), the day's final forest stage. Split times up to that point revealed that the Citroën crew was 7.3s clear of Petter Solberg...
The last time the two-times World Champions* had a misadventure of this sort was in the 2003 Rally Argentine, which means that they went forty rallies without going off, perhaps a further record to add to their list!
The incident occurred just in front of Guy Fréquelin, so the Citroën team knew at once that the crew was unhurt. "We were in sixth gear coming into a third-gear left-hander," related Seb back at Langley Park shortly afterwards. "I knew immediately that I had left my braking a little too late. There was a gap in the trees I could perhaps have escaped into but I thought I was going to make it. But I was going too quickly. On the loose gravel, I had no grip anymore. The car went towards the outside of the corner where, as always here, there was a tree waiting in our path..."
"I'm so disappointed for the team to have ended the year on a low note like this," he added. "Thankfully, though, it doesn't spoil our fantastic third full season together..."
"Seb was pushing hard," says Guy Fréquelin. "He had just taken the lead and was optimistic with his braking. It's not the sort of mistake he would have made had there been anything vital at stake. But here, the combination of the loose top-coating, the high average speeds and the proximity of the trees means that it's so easy to get caught out. We will bring the car back to service where we can have a close look at it before deciding whether Seb and Daniel will re-start tomorrow morning..."
François Duval moved up to 3rd place after 'Flynns' (SS9) before profiting from the two attempts at the 'Perth City' super-special (SS10/11) to bridge the small gap that separated him from Colin McRae. This evening, he leads the former Citroën driver by 1.4 s and their battle promises to be interesting to watch on Leg 2. "It's been a good day," commented the young Belgian. "I made only one mistake when I stalled in a hairpin second time through 'Murray North' (SS6). I profited from the mid-leg service halt to change my suspension set-up and I will make further changes for tomorrow. The going is very slippery and it will be hard to find more traction, but we will try. My objective is to reach the finish. The stages are very tricky but I will do my best to stay focused."
The privately-entered Team Kronos Racing-run Xsaras suffered a similar fate today as the factory team, with one Xsara going strongly and the other prematurely stopped. Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor made the most of midday service to cure their early understeer problem and figure in an excellent 5th overall and best-placed privateers. On the other hand, Xevi Pons was halted by radiator damage after hitting a tree on SS5. The engine overheated and the Spaniard will definitely not re-start on Saturday morning.