The game is on again... SÃ©bastien Loeb/Daniel Elena versus Marcus GrÃ¶nholm/Timo Rautiainen : this is undoubtedly the match of the season and once more it is living up to all expectations. At the end of leg one of the Rally Japan...
The game is on again...
Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena versus Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen : this is undoubtedly the match of the season and once more it is living up to all expectations. At the end of leg one of the Rally Japan the 11th encounter between the two rivals this year Loeb is keeping Grönholm in his sights, by holding the runner-up spot 11.5 seconds behind the Finn. After a day of learning the narrow and damp roads of Hokkaido, a concentrated Dani Sordo ends the leg in fifth place.
The opening leg was mostly made up of two identical loops of four stages, followed by two runs through the superspecial close to the Kita Aikoku service park. Sébastien Loeb running on soft BFGoodrich tyres cleaned the road for his rivals on the first loop of stages, by starting first on the road thanks to his championship lead. Despite the handicap he won Kanna (SS3) to end his morning of road sweeping just 9.3 seconds off Marcus Grönholm. Seb concluded : " I swept away the loose gravel in Pawse Kamuy , made a few small mistakes in Rikubetsu, then I had a good feeling in Kanna. But in Puray the feeling was not so good, as the grip level was constantly changing... "
The second loop of stages was a carbon copy of the first and Seb limited the time loss to Grönholm to just 2.2 seconds, having once more set fastest time in Kanna. Nonetheless, the reigning World Champion stalled on the slowest hairpin in Puray, and later asked the service crew to check the function of his semi-automatic gearbox command. "I've got a problem with Pawse Kamuy, " reflected Seb during final service. "For three years now I've never quite got to grips with that stage. That's where Marcus built up the bulk of his advantage. I was quicker in Kanna and he was in Puray : that's what a fight is all about ! I'm sure it will be very exciting again tomorrow... "
Dani Sordo worked hard during the recce, but soon realised that two passes over the stages at 60kph were hardly enough to prepare him for a full-on attack over the fast and narrow stages where many of the cuts are hidden by thick vegetation. The young Spaniard concentrated on one primary objective : avoiding mistakes. In the first loop his only problems consisted of running wide on a corner, which meant that he stalled his Xsara's engine on SS4. By lunchtime Dani was in an excellent seventh place, although he was unsatisfied by the times he had been setting. He ended the day fifth.
The Spaniard commented : "In the afternoon the stages were cleaner and less damp. As it was my second run through them at speed, I felt happier and more confident. My times got better and so I made up two places... Tomorrow, I'm going to stick with the same tactics. I will get to know the stages carefully, try to improve during the second run, and above all I want to avoid mistakes. My main aim on this rally is first and foremost to score as many manufacturer points as I can for Kronos. "
-credit: kronos racing