SÃ©bastien Loeb shadowing the leader! After running first on the road throughout the opening leg, Xsara WRC crew SÃ©bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena figure in a strong 2nd place this evening in Perth, a little over 20 seconds behind Marcus ...
Sébastien Loeb shadowing the leader!
After running first on the road throughout the opening leg, Xsara WRC crew Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena figure in a strong 2nd place this evening in Perth, a little over 20 seconds behind Marcus Grönholm.
The withdrawal of Carlos Sainz from the event following his accident during recce has left a big void. However, staff from all the WRC teams joined together after yesterday evening's pre-start parade for a long ovation to show their esteem for the Spaniard and their disappointment at not being able to see him in action one last time.
In addition to the absence of Carlos, the retirement of Markko Märtin prior to Friday's first test and that of Petter Solberg in 'Murray North' (SS4) have somewhat truncated the event which, deprived of three of its key players, has a rather feel about it.
Even so, that hasn't detracted from the exciting scrap that has emerged at the sharp end, with Marcus Grönholm immediately looking to pull out a gap. "The first two stages were damp. I drove well and chose to attack, yet still keeping my style tidy," said Seb at the Remote Tyre Fitting Zone (RTFZ) in Dwellingup. "I had a bit of a problem with oversteer through the faster corners so I will fine-tune my rear shock absorber settings and switch to an alternative differential mapping. As far as sweeping the stages is concerned, my road position is naturally a handicap but I honestly can't say exactly how much it cost me... I think my tyre choice for the first loop of stages was good. I chose the soft '8' compound and a significantly re-cut pattern to facilitate clearing the small, loose stones."
Sébastien Loeb chose the same tyres, although less cut, for the following loop and responded to the leader's pace by posting fastest times in both 'Murray North' and 'Murray South' (SS4 and 5). "There was less gravel to clear on those two stages," explains Daniel Elena, an impression confirmed by Seb who added: "The car is very stable now thanks to the set-up changes. There's more grip, traction is good and it's easier to drive tidily."
After routine work at the following service halt, during which the team made a few adjustments, the 2004 World Champions went on to tackle 'Beraking' and 'Helena South', two stages located in the Mundaring region which will host all Leg 2's action. Grönholm attempted a further charge which Seb countered well since the gap between the two drivers only widened from 19.5 seconds after SS3 to 21.1s after SS7.
"I could perhaps have done with more of a cut to my tyres for the third loop," suggested Seb before leaving again for the day's two attempts at the 'Perth City' super-special. "During recce, this part of the route was very wet, with no top coating of gravel. Today, it was completely dry and the gravel had reappeared. I definitely feel I lost time being first on the road. I also noticed a tiny bit of oversteer again. In 'Beraking' I pushed a little too hard and missed a few apexes which made my heart beat a little faster on a couple of occasions. It went better in 'Helena South' and that could be a good sign for tomorrow!"