WRC

Rally Catalunya: Leg one summary

Leg One News Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) had a small brake problem on the opening stage but made repairs himself before the second stage. He inherited the lead when Gronholm hit trouble and has a 27.3sec lead over team-mate Dani Sordo,...

Leg One News

Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) had a small brake problem on the opening stage but made repairs himself before the second stage. He inherited the lead when Gronholm hit trouble and has a 27.3sec lead over team-mate Dani Sordo, who overcame understeering problems this morning. Xavi Pons (Citroen) lies third, despite stalling at the start of the second stage and minor brake problems. Petter Solberg (Subaru) holds fourth with Alex Bengue (Peugeot) and Jan Kopecky (Skoda) rounding off the top six. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) lost time on stage four after sliding on gravel and hitting his car's rear-left, damaging the handling. Gilles Panizzi (Skoda) dropped a minute this morning with incorrect suspension settings. He lost a further two minutes when he had to help push Jari-Matti Latvala's (Ford) car off stage four, the Finn having crashed, leaving his car blocking the route.

Kronos Total Citroen

At the end of the first and longest leg of the Catalunya Rally, the Kronos team has three Citroen Xsaras occupying the top three places, crewed by Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, Dani Sordo/Marc Marti and Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "There is still an extremely long way to go before the finish and I will have to keep up a good pace. I've got two young and hungry drivers breathing down my neck. Dani [Sordo] is not so far behind me and as he does not have to worry about the manufacturers' championship, he can push as hard as he likes."

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "On the last loop of stages, I couldn't find the excellent feeling with the car that I had enjoyed right up until then. I seemed to have a lot of understeer and oversteer. We're going to look at the problem together, and I feel confident that the team will find a solution. Having said that, it's impossible to get any better than having three Xsaras on the provisional podium. We have to do all we can now to try and maintain a one-two-three."

OMV-Peugeot Norway

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team finished day one of the "Movistar RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada" in eleventh place. Stohl had to struggle with the set-up of the Peugeot 307 WRC right from the beginning of stage one. It took until the last two special stages to finally reach respectable times.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: The times on the fifth and sixth special stage were already quite satisfying. But we won't see whether we came closer to an acceptable set-up until Saturday."

BP-Ford

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen dominated much of today's opening leg of the Rally de España in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The Finns blitzed the opposition on this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship to win the opening three speed tests and build a significant lead before technical problems intervened late this afternoon to drop them to 10th.Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen further emphasised the speed of the Focus RS WRC on dry asphalt by holding third for the opening half of the day. However, an identical turbo-related problem hampered their challenge over the final two special stages and they slipped down the order to 14th.

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I would have been disappointed if I had been far away from Sebastien after such good asphalt testing recently. My pace notes were not fantastic here last year and this morning I was changing them to make them work with the Focus. I could enter corners faster than previously and I took no risks in building a lead. On the penultimate stage I lost power 7km after the start due to a turbo problem, and it's hard to drive with no boost. It slowly got worse and there was nothing I could do nothing to fix it after the stage because it is located right at the back of the engine and it was far too hot to get anywhere near. I'm disappointed, of course, but also surprised because I had no problem like this in testing. Everything was going so well and for the first time ever I was beating Sebastien on asphalt. I need to fight back tomorrow," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "I thought a podium was possible," he said. "I was cautious in the opening stage and probably lost some time as a result but all was going well until about 4km after the start of stage five. The boost dropped over the next 4km and then there was nothing. In all our testing the car has been so reliable but mechanical problems happen with new cars and we must work to resolve this. Despite the troubles, I'm pleased with the speed of the Focus on asphalt."

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford

The first day of RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada was one of a slow start but far faster finish for Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson as he acclimatised himself to the technical stages on the hot and dry tarmac of Spain. It was the first time that Wilson had driven a competitive stage in Spain and both driver and co-driver Michael Orr found the grip levels afforded by their BF Goodrich tyres on the largely smooth asphalt to be far greater than they had accounted for in their pace notes. The low ride height and stiffly sprung nature of their Ford Focus RS WRC05 was another factor to be learnt in what is 19 year old Wilson's first year in the FIA World Rally Championship, yet by the end of the first day Wilson and Orr had moved within reach of the top ten in the overall standings. The sister Focus of Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila was on the pace from early on, but made contact with a bridge on the fourth stage. Though there did not appear to be significant damage, the hydraulics were damaged in the impact, meaning the car was stranded on stage.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "The last stage seemed to work quite well but the slow corners with loads and loads of cuts were difficult to comprehend. You have the whole car off the road and the rocks are massive, they bang under the car and it's difficult to have the confidence to take the corners like that. But when I got to the last bit of the final stage I thought I was driving pretty well, probably the best I've driven all day. The afternoon was a lot better than the morning, my pace has definitely picked up. It's such a difference driving full tarmac spec, just how low the car is and how stiff it's sprung. Some parts of the stages are like race track, but others are very bumpy, so it's always a compromise."

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "I made a mistake which should not have happened. We had a good start to stage four then at the end of a very fast straight there's a bridge and I took it in third gear. Unfortunately there was gravel on the bridge and I didn't have the power to get the car sideways and we simply understeered into the wall. The spectators helped us push the car so other competitors could get past and we put out two triangle and were waving to cars to slow down. I really, really hope we can get out tomorrow. Just before I hit the wall I was thinking it was a really nice rally today."

555 Subaru

The Subaru World Rally Team worked hard to optimise asphalt set-up during the first Leg of Rally Catalunya. The Impreza WRC2006s of Petter Solberg and Stephane Sarrazin ran faultlessly throughout the day and the duo finished all stages within the top ten to go into Leg two in fourth and seventh respectively. Chris Atkinson continued to impress as he matched the pace of his experienced team-mates however he lost time through SS4 when he slid wide and damaged the suspension. The Australian finished the Leg in eighth.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Today has been just okay. I am quite happy with the car as it is much quicker than last year. We still have a lot of work to do and tonight we'll make more changes and then just see what happens. We know that we need to keep going like crazy tomorrow."

Stephane Sarrazin/Stephane Prevot: "We have improved the balance of the car throughout the day and I am optimistic ahead of tomorrow. It is difficult to fight at the top at the moment, however you only need look to today to see how things can change. Tonight we'll look at the data and then see what more we can do to improve the grip. We'll push and push to try and move up."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: It has been encouraging for us today. "We're very happy with the times and that we have been able to trade them with guys far more experienced on asphalt. It's just our second time here and sixth on asphalt in total, so we're pleased. Sure we had a couple of problems, however we're already looking forward to tomorrow which holds some tricky stages in store."

Red Bull-Skoda Team

The final three stages of the first day again had positive as well as negative events in store for the Red Bull Skoda team. Andreas Aigner performed well and was quite comfortable in his first tarmac rally at the helm of the Fabia WRC.

Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi: The Frenchman also had his share of bad luck when just ahead of him the Finnish driver Latvala was involved in an accident on SS4 which completely blocked the stage: "I had no choice but to stop and wait until spectators had pushed the car to the side of the road before I was able to continue. I lost two minutes this way. We notified the clerk of the course about the incident. For tomorrow I am very confident, because I already know all the stages from the year before."

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "I gained a lot of experience again today and was able to improve my times on all stages that were run twice. Additionally, I have slightly changed my style of driving on our team management's recommendation, I drove more smoothly and fluently, which had a positive effect on my stage times."

-www.rallye-newsletter.com

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Stéphane Sarrazin , Gilles Panizzi , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Hervé Panizzi , Timo Rautiainen , Manfred Stohl , Jari-Matti Latvala , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Jan Kopecky , Jarmo Lehtinen , Miikka Anttila , Ilka Minor , Xavier Pons , Alex Bengue , Matthew Wilson , Michael Orr , Chris Atkinson , Andreas Aigner , Timo Gottschalk
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport