Leg 1: Sebastien Loeb and Citroen in the leader's slipstream The first leg of the 2007 Rally New Zealand ended this evening with Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen C4 WRC on the second step of the overnight podium and in...
Leg 1: Sebastien Loeb and Citroen in the leader's slipstream
The first leg of the 2007 Rally New Zealand ended this evening with Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen C4 WRC on the second step of the overnight podium and in the immediate wake of the provisional leader. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti are currently sixth with the second Citroen Sport car.
The southern hemisphere fixture has always been a favourite with the World Championship drivers because of the country's breathtaking scenery and also the quality of its gravel stages. The first leg of this year's event, which took crews to the Pirongia region, southwest of Hamilton, was based on a loop of two stages to be contested twice and ended with a visit to the super- special situated next to the service park.
Following the heavy rain that fell during the week prior to the start, the roads were always likely to be damp. "It was unclear what the conditions would be like exactly, however, as the drivers set out for this morning's loop," explained Guy Frequelin. "We knew the stages would be wet, but not how wet, which made this morning's tyre call quite difficult. In the end, our two cars went out on soft compound BFGoodrich tyres which, in retrospect, probably wasn't the ideal choice for the first loop..."
Even so, Sebastien and Dani succeeded in limiting the damage. "I tried to keep it as smooth as possible over the 44-kilomètre Waitomo stage (SS2) in order to drop as little time as possible," related Seb. The first loop saw the three-time World Champion keep his deficit under the 15- second mark, while Dani, who has only competed once before in New Zealand, also got off to a positive start which enabled him to finish the morning ahead of drivers with far more experience of this event. "I felt I couldn't make full use of my Citroen C4's potential, so I preferred not to take any risks," commented the young Spaniard at the lunchtime break.
The two Citroen crews profited from the midday service halt to make some small adjustments to the set-ups of their respective cars before opting for harder rubber for the afternoon's stages. The combination of the two factors enabled them to enjoy a good run on SS3 and SS4, and a brace of fastest times saw Sebastien make up some of the gap: "My Citroen C4 was very competitive this afternoon. I was able to push hard and close in on my rival. The set-up changes we made turned out to be very beneficial and that's encouraging for the rest of the weekend." Dani was also positive about the second loop: "The car was better suited to the terrain. It was a pleasure to drive and enabled us to post two competitive times."
Before the start, Guy Frequelin had set Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena the mission of fighting for victory and said he would like to see Dani Sordo and Marc Marti target a top-five finish. He is consequently pleased with his crews' approach to the day and with their overnight positions. "Both tyre choices involved a chance of getting it wrong," he observed. "This morning's call wasn't particularly inspired but we made up for it this afternoon. Both this morning and this afternoon, Seb and Dani succeeded in making the most of the potential they had. Sebastien and Daniel are just behind Marcus Gronholm and there is still a long way to go for them to try to pass him. Their run was especially remarkable inasmuch as they didn't take part in last year's event, so the stages are new to them. Dani and Marc once again showed the progress they have made on the loose by taking the fight to drivers with far more experience than them. This rally is by no means over; the gaps are small and a great deal can change over the two legs to come."