A good start for CitroÃ«n's crews The Xsara WRCs of SÃ©bastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and FranÃ§ois Duval/Sven Smeets emerged from the longest leg of the 2005 Wales Rally GB in 1st and 5th positions. The format of the day was fairly...
A good start for Citroën's crews
The Xsara WRCs of Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and François Duval/Sven Smeets emerged from the longest leg of the 2005 Wales Rally GB in 1st and 5th positions.
The format of the day was fairly straightforward, with two attempts at the same loop of three stages, two of which -- Brechfa and Trawscoed -- were located in Brechfa Forest to the north of the Felindre service park, while Rheola was closer to the rally's base and ran along the left bank of the Neath River.
The combination of the heavy rain that marked yesterday morning's shakedown and the showers that continued to fall over the region into the early hours of Friday left the stages very wet. By the morning, however, the rain had ceased and the conditions soon begun to dry under the influence of the wind and the emerging sunshine. "The first two stages were very slippery, but not everywhere," reported early leader Sébastien Loeb at the lunchtime break. "It wasn't easy to read the road to spot the places where the grip changed. In SS2, I spun in a long left-hander which tightened into a 'right' and the engine stalled. Petter [Solberg] also had a problem and we ended up with exactly the same time. The conditions began to dry in SS3 and there was more grip available..."
The stages dried out more quickly than anticipated in fact. As a consequence, and after much hesitation, both Citroën drivers opted for a slightly harder compound tyre than their morning choice. However, the second pass through the loop's first two stages told them that two notches harder would have been a more judicious choice, especially since the day's final test, SS6, took place two hours after SS5. "It was so dry we even found ourselves brushing aside surface gravel. That cost us a few seconds," revealed Seb. On top of this came a 10-second penalty for lateness out of the mid-day service halt. The N°1 Xsara arrived at the control close to the time limit and it was the ideal time that was initially marked on Daniel Elena's timecard. The change was made later. "It must have been outside factors that led the marshals to make the change," was Guy Fréquelin's simple comment. "It adds to the suspense," smiled the reigning World Champion. "We've got a good fight on our hands with Petter, and Marcus [Grönholm] is coming back very strongly. Tomorrow I'll keep to the same pace. I feel comfortable with the car. I will play the game as long as I feel I can win, but I keep the option of changing tactics open..."
François Duval is understandably pleased with his day: "I didn't go too badly here last year. Our pre-event testing took place in dry conditions so I took it easily during the first loop which was damp. I had a couple of scares, due to slightly optimistic notes, but everything went to plan. On the drier second loop, I was very focused and on a good pace. It will probably be a close thing tomorrow since there are four or five drivers bunched within fifteen or so seconds. I will drive as I did today, basing my pace on that of Markko [Märtin] and trying not to make any mistakes..."