Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) was the early leader. But when the Finn hit serious brake problems on the second test Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) moved to the front, despite losing 10 seconds by spinning and stalling. The Frenchman won two stages to...
Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) was the early leader. But when the Finn hit serious brake problems on the second test Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) moved to the front, despite losing 10 seconds by spinning and stalling. The Frenchman won two stages to build an overnight lead of 9.9sec, despite a 10 second penalty for checking in late at a time control. Petter Solberg (Subaru) spun in the same stage as Loeb but made no other mistakes to hold second ahead of Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi), who was fastest on the second stage. Gronholm recovered superbly to climb from 19th to fourth, edging out Francois Duval (Citroen). Duval's only problem came at the start of stage two when he dropped 10 seconds as his launch control system failed to engage. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) had a fantastic Rally GB debut, holding sixth despite a final stage puncture.
Armin Schwarz (Skoda) had a torrid morning, a combination of a spin, a broken intercom and tyre troubles costing over two minutes. He is 21st while returning team-mate Colin McRae is 13th. There were no major retirements today.
The Xsara WRCs of Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Francois Duval/Sven Smeets emerged from the longest leg of the 2005 Wales Rally GB in 1st and 5th positions.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "The first two stages were very slippery, but not everywhere. 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."
Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "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 [Martin] and trying not to make any mistakes."
After the first day of competition on Wales Rally GB, Subaru's Petter Solberg holds second place overall, less than 10 seconds off the lead. Solberg enjoyed a trouble-free run on the Leg's six stages and set the second fastest stage time on both runs through the challenging 27km stage at Rheola. On their Wales Rally GB debuts, Chris Atkinson and Stephane Sarrazin both followed their individual objectives perfectly and delivered solid performances on the tricky and unfamiliar Welsh roads. Both are looking to increase their pace as they become more familiar with the conditions over the next two days.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Not too bad at all. Of course, I'd prefer to be leading but the car is going well, all the set-up changes we've made are taking it in the right direction and I'd say that we've gone better today than on any of the other gravel rallies this year. The first three stages went very well except for a spin on the second and for the repeated loop we took a chance on a tyre choice that in hindsight was too hard. Although we were able to take time out of Loeb on the last stage of the day, we gave up too much on the first two. Phil and I have enjoyed a good fight with Sebastien today, and Marcus is pushing hard too, so I expect things are going to be pretty exciting tomorrow. I'm going to have to work very hard to win this rally, but I'll certainly give it my best shot."
Stephane Sarrazin/Denis Giraudet: "Yes, it's been a good first day. My road position wasn't great, there were a lot of ruts in the road, but we're in good shape ahead of the next two days. Now, looking back at my performance on some of the first stages, I think I could have been quicker, I just wasn't pushing enough. But the important thing is that the speed is getting better and more comfortable."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's been a good day for us. I'm pretty pleased with sixth place overall on my first ever day of Rally GB. But my main objective continues to be learning more about the event and that's what I'll be doing tomorrow on another set of stages that are new to me. Hopefully though I can step up the pace a little more as the weekend goes on."
Treacherously slippery conditions made today's opening leg of the Wales Rally GB exceptionally demanding, but both BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings survived unscathed in their Focus RS World Rally Cars. Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen ended the day in ninth, less than six seconds away from a top six placing, with team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek in 12th.However, the leading Focus RS was in the hands of privately-entered Norwegians Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud. They drove superbly to hold seventh, outpacing six manufacturer-entered cars on their final FIA World Rally Championship event of the season. Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "I expected more from today. I don't understand why the times haven't been there because I've been driving flat out and I'm upset not to be in the top six. It's the first rally this year where I've pushed hard and got nothing out of it. Maybe the car was too soft this afternoon because I didn't expect it to dry as much as it did. If it stays dry tomorrow, I will need a harder set-up,"
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "It was like driving on ice this morning. My tyres were too hard and many times I slid off the driving line in the mud. Everything was faster and nicer this afternoon. Although my position isn't great the gaps are close and I'm only just over 30 seconds from the top six, so much can happen tomorrow. I made some changes to the differential set-up after the shakedown test yesterday and the Focus has felt really good all day. I won't change anything tonight. Tomorrow I don't want to take any risks so I'll keep the same pace."
Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm set off like a rocket to win the first stage of Wales Rally GB, round 12 of the World Championship, but his charge was halted by a serious problem on the following stage: no brakes. Having fixed the fault, Marcus quickly fought back to an impressive fourth place overall. His team mate Markko Martin opted for a cautious approach, and ends the leg eighth.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "Today has been good apart from the brake problem this morning. Without that, we could certainly have been fighting for the lead of the rally. The car and the tyres have been extremely good, despite the fact that conditions have been very difficult and changeable. The roads were slippery in the morning and then they dried out a bit in the afternoon. I realised we had a brake problem at the end of the first stage, but I was not able to try and fix it until after the second stage. The time lost on stage two was very costly, but let's see what we can do tomorrow."
Markko Martin/Michael Park: "I've struggled today. I have no real confidence in the car in these conditions, which is a problem I've had since the start of the year. On the last loop of stages, I was able to find a slightly better feeling by locking the diffs, but this made the car very difficult to drive in the tight corners. My co-driver was having to adjust the diffs in the middle of the stage as I told him to lock or unlock them, depending on what was needed! My objective now is just to get to the end and score as many points as I can."
Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team drivers Colin McRae and Armin Schwarz ended the opening leg of Rally GB in 13th and 21st places respectively. The return of Colin to the WRC with Skoda Motorsport has generated a massive amount of interest among the media and the rally fans, thousands of whom turned out to cheer the Scot and his Welsh co-driver Nicky Grist over the start ramp at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium last night.
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "I spun on the first corner of the first stage and stalled the engine. It took a long time to restart and then after that I had an intercom problem for two more stages. Klaus did a great job guiding me with hand signals but I think that, in terms of results, my rally was over before it really began."
Colin McRae/Nicky Grist: "The first two stages were so slippery that to push hard would have been stupid because we had no experience of these conditions as the test was dry. These are the most demanding stages of the rally and it's very easy to make a mistake. I went for it on the dry third stage and got sixth place so if it stays like that for the rest of the rally then we can build on it. This afternoon the car was bouncing about in the ruts so we will change the set up for tomorrow and I'm confident we can improve our position as everything is very close. The atmosphere at last night's start was fantastic and there are thousands of fans in the forests cheering us on. It's good to be back!"
After the opening leg of Wales Rally GB, the 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew of Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen are on the provisional podium, in third. Team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido d'Amore have been easing themselves into the pace in their first competitive outing in Wales but have set competitive times to lie 10th overnight.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "Today has been fantastic for me and very good for the team on the mechanics home event, every stage has been going well. The only problem we have had is a suspension link failure in SS5 but we were able to fix it for the final stage. All the stages this afternoon have been very slippy, especially the last one even though it was completely dry. Everyone in the team has worked very hard so I am happy to have a good result at the end of the first day. I need to keep my concentration for the whole weekend, because I'm sure there will be a big fight ahead."
Gigi Galli/Guido D'Amore: "I am pleased with the day, which has gone accordingly to plan, but this rally is harder than I thought. The main thing about the event is the grip; sometimes it's slippy and other times not, but I think tomorrow's stages are more twisty and the surface a bit more predictable. We are trying, step by step, but doing these stages in a rally car is something quite different to the recce."