Leg one comprised 135.02 competitive kilometres and eight stages. Six of those were run in the Mosel vineyards, where the roads combine long, fast straights with 90-degree corners. The remaining two were run on the smooth roads of...
Leg one comprised 135.02 competitive kilometres and eight stages. Six of those were run in the Mosel vineyards, where the roads combine long, fast straights with 90-degree corners. The remaining two were run on the smooth roads of Saarland
Showers fell intermittently throughout the morning, before clearing in the afternoon. Air temperatures started at 14C this morning, rising to 24C by mid-afternoon. Stages were damp in the morning with some muddy sections, but became dry later
Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) dominated the day and set fastest time on each of the final five stages to lead by 26.5sec from team-mate Carlos Sainz. The BP-Ford duo sandwiched Petter Solberg (Subaru) in fourth with an untroubled Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) rounding off the top six. Cedric Robert (Peugeot) held fifth until he dropped 30 seconds with a spin while Armin Schwarz (Skoda), starting his 100th world rally, was sixth until brake problems ruined his afternoon. Robert lies ninth and Schwarz 15th, with Roman Kresta now leading the Czech team in seventh. Freddy Loix's (Peugeot) first world rally since February was hindered by an engine misfire at low revs this morning. He set top five times all afternoon until clutch and gearbox problems on the final stage cost more time. Team-mate Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) was the day's major retirement, the Finn crashing on the first corner of the rally, after aquaplaning on standing water, and breaking a wheel hub. Dani Sola (Mitsubishi) was also an early retirement, the Spaniard crashing heavily into a tree 200 metres into the second stage.
The second leg is the longest and most demanding, comprising 177.66km of competition. The bulk of the distance is based on the Baumholder military ranges, more normally used by the US Army for tank training exercises. Often lined by giant stones (Hinkelsteine), the roads are always covered in sand and gravel and in wet weather can be treacherous. Competitors leave Bostalsee at 08.32 and tackle two identical loops of four stages before a spectacular super special stage through the streets of St Wendel. They return to Bostalsee at 21.01.
This evening, Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti are lying in the top two places in the Rallye Deutschland, an event which marks the return of the world competition to asphalt surfaces. The Citro0x00e2n team, which was determined to do honour to this event, was delighted this evening. Throughout the first leg, the Xsara validated the work which has been done, and confirmed its position as 'the car to beat' on this surface.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: It would be difficult to have a better day," Sebastien admitted, above the roar of the fan-club which greeted him at the service area. "However, that does not mean that it was easy. A damp road, then dry at the start, a road made dirty by the first pass through when we went through for the second time. About this matter, I must admit that the indications from the organisation's official gravel crews are useful. However, we are still constantly alert, which will be especially necessary tomorrow in Baumholder."
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: If Sebastien was pleased to confirm, once again, his performance over 'his' terrain, Carlos, who has seen him win there twice, was no less happy. "I have never had such a good feeling for this rally," the Spanish driver said delightedly. "Total confidence in the car, good feeling for the road and the atmospheric conditions. I hope to be in the same conditions for Baumholder. All of that will be necessary in order to get to the end of that tyre-choice puzzle without making any mistakes."
Despite the changeable conditions dominating the action in northern Germany today, current World Champion Petter Solberg delivered a consistent performance in his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 to end the day well positioned in fourth place overall. After gaining valuable experience in his Subaru Impreza in difficult conditions, his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen ended the day in eleventh position. With more than 200 competitive kilometres remaining and tricky weather conditions forecast once again for tomorrow, Petter and Mikko remain committed to achieving the best result possible over the next two days.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: There were no dramas today and everything was as I had hoped, except for the tyre choices. We didn't have the best morning and there were some difficult conditions for everyone. We'd hoped for a little more rain this afternoon and maybe, if we'd chosen a harder tyre compound, we would have been fighting for some top times. But, I'm driving well, the car feels good on the asphalt and I'm pleased with its performance. We'll continue to fine-tune the settings tomorrow and hope to set some good times.
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: I felt a bit more confident on the dry stages this afternoon, but we lost some time with our tyre choices. I didn't have such a good feeling in the car this morning in the wet, but this afternoon I was able to push more. Looking at our times on the longer stages today we were not so far behind Petter at the mid-way split, however we suffered as a result of the tyre choice later in the stages. But, it's good experience for me and I'm looking forward to getting back out on the stages tomorrow.
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Fran0x00e7ois Duval and Stephane Prevot won two speed tests on their way to third place at the end of today's opening leg of the Rallye Deutschland. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car was the only genuine challenger to leader Sebastien Loeb during a difficult day's driving on slippery asphalt roads in the picturesque Mosel wine region of western Germany. Team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park recovered well after a poor start to hold fifth in another Focus RS.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: Martin and Duval were badly affected by the weather all day. Having opted for the same tyres as Duval but without the cuts, the 28-year-old Estonian driver was dealt a harsh blow when it started to rain as he was about to begin the opening stage. "The roads turned from dry to wet and it was hard to get confidence in the slippery conditions," he said. He dropped 45 seconds. Martin recovered with two fifth fastest and a third fastest time to return to service in eighth. "The conditions were so changeable that it was impossible to make a tyre choice with confidence. Our tyres were too hard and I couldn't get any heat into them. I didn't have good grip and I didn't want to take any risks," he added. Martin is well-known for his tidy driving which is kind on tyre wear but, ironically, a more aggressive method would have generated more heat in the rubber. Expecting wet conditions again this afternoon, Martin opted for softer Michelin rubber but, to his despair, the roads were totally dry. He climbed to fifth in his Castrol-branded Focus RS, despite stalling at a hairpin near the end of stage five, but was frustrated at his bad luck. "The best part of today is that it is over!" he joked. "My tyre selection was perfect - it's just that my afternoon choice was ideal for this morning's conditions and the tyres I had this morning were perfect for the afternoon. I guess that after the way things have gone for us, fifth position is not a bad placing tonight but the time gaps will be hard to make up."
Francios Duval / Stefan Prevot: Duval and Prevot opted for Michelin's medium compound dry weather tyres this morning, with small cuts carved into the rubber to combat any water. They worked perfectly and Duval revelled in conditions and roads similar to those of his early days in the sport in Belgium. He overshot a junction on the opening stage but was fastest on the second and an incredible 12.2sec quicker than anyone else on the third test to climb into second place, just 2.4sec behind Loeb. He understeered off the road briefly on the fourth stage but reached the midpoint of the leg just 3.5sec behind the Frenchman. However a seal on the Focus RS' hydraulic gearchange actuator system failed as he left service and 23-year-old Duval had to tackle the afternoon loop using the back-up manual system. That was not such a difficulty. But using the back-up system means that the handbrake cannot be used and that was a more serious problem on the tight hairpins. "This morning was fantastic and I set some excellent times. But this afternoon was hard because the hairpins in the vineyards are so tight that you have to use the handbrake to get round them. I had to reverse to get round hairpins six times and stalled the car three times. I think I lost about a minute," said Duval, who lies 58.5sec behind Loeb. "The stages were dirty where drivers had cut corners but I like those conditions so it didn't bother me. Tomorrow will be difficult because the stages on Baumholder are always slippery. But we'll push as hard as we did today and see what happens," he added.
Peugeot has endured a difficult start to the Rallye Deutschland, with Cedric Robert ending the day just outside the points in ninth and Freddy Loix finishing 13th Today's action was hampered by uncertain weather that made tyre choice a lottery. Crews competed on eight asphalt stages, all of which were characterised by intermittent rain. Marcus Gronholm's rally came to an end on the very first corner of stage one. The Finn aquaplaned on some standing water, and a broken wheel hub forced him to retire on the spot.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "We braked normally for the corner, but the car just slid away from us," said Marcus. "We are not allowed to have gravel crews any more, which maybe could have warned us of the danger. There was nothing I could do." Marcus Gronholm will re-start leg two under the trial of the new Super Rally system.
Cedric Robert: Cedric had an uncertain feeling with his brakes on the opening loop of stages, and he was also caught out by the adverse weather. But the biggest scare came on the afternoon's loop of stages, when he was lucky to get away with a high-speed spin in fourth gear. "It was quite frightening," said Cedric. "I really risked damaging the car, and it knocked my confidence. The bad feeling with the brakes in the morning was my fault, as I was overheating them, but the biggest problem was always the weather. I think we were really unlucky: it always seemed to start raining just as we were beginning a stage! But we are still here and determined to score points, so we will be trying hard tomorrow."
Freddy Loix / Sven Smeets: Freddy was held back by an engine misfire on the opening loop of stages, which was cured at service. He set some promising top-five times in the afternoon, but his good work was ruined by a gearbox problem that left Freddy with only first and second gears on the final stage. Freddy commented: "It's been a very tricky day. As I had more competitive kilometres in the car my confidence built up, and I was encouraged by the times we could set in the afternoon. The gearbox problem was a pity but I am sure that we will be able to attack again tomorrow."
The Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04 crew of Gilles and Herve Panizzi hold sixth position at the end of the first day of Rallye Deutschland, the 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Despite the retirement of team-mates "Dani" Sol0x00e0 and Xavier Amigo, the team has however taken great heart from the potential of the car in its first full asphalt event after the Spaniards set a blistering pace in the opening stage.
Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi: "It was very very slippery in the stages this morning and we decided we will push when we can and play safer when the conditions are worse", commented Gilles. "We made some small adjustments to the suspension settings at the mid-leg service and the feeling with the car was much better this afternoon and suited the road conditions more. In the last three stages I pushed very hard, close to the limit, and generally if things continue this way we should be in good shape for tomorrow".
Dani Sol0x00e0: Dani Sol0x00e0 and Xavier Amigo set a scorching pace in the opening stage this morning and were third fastest through the 17.84 kilometer Ruwertal stage, just 4.4 seconds adrift of stage victor and double World Champion Carlos Sainz. However, their charge was then halted when they went off the road and hit a tree 200 meters after the start of the second stage, forcing them into retirement. Shocked by the accident, Dani and Xavier were taken to hospital for precautionary scans and x-rays but have since been discharged without any serious injuries.
All three of the Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team drivers set times in the top 10 during the opening day of Rallye Deutschland. Fourth place on SS3 for Armin Schwarz and third on SS5 for Roman Kresta set new records for the individual performance of the Fabia WRC. Armin was sixth overall after SS5 before brake problems on today's final three stages. Tonight Roman, Toni and Armin lie 7th, 10th and 15th respectively. Today's action has taken place on 135.02kms of flowing roads through the vineyards of the Mosel region in both sunshine and heavy rain.
Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: "My only problem this morning was with the throttle response but we fixed that at service and the car was fine. Today has been quite tricky with the weather but we have not been affected too badly by the changing conditions. I am looking forward to Baumholder because we usually go quite well there and maybe I can gain some places tomorrow."
Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "I was surprised to find was my 100th WRC event as I hadn't been counting! The Fabia was incredible today, especially on dry asphalt, and without my brake problems I am sure I could have been fifth tonight."
Roman Kresta: "I was surprised but really happy to set third fastest time on SS5. It must have been 'maximum attack' for me! The conditions today have been quite tricky as there is a lot of mud on the road from previous cars. If it was all wet or all dry it could push even harder."