Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti put in a remarkable effort during the first leg of the Sardinian rally. Returning to Porto Cervo parc fermé, the two Xsara WRCs are lying in third and fourth positions, and are ideally placed for the rest of the rally.
Questions concerning the first edition of the event which has replaced the Sanremo Rally, started during the reconnaissance. The drivers discovered special stages which were slower, rougher and more winding than they had expected. During yesterday's shakedown they noted that, as during the stages used to prepare for the event, the ground improved significantly and rapidly as the cars went through. In these conditions, Sébastien Loeb, opening the road today due to his position as Championship leader, had much to fear from his position as 'sweeper'.
The first special stage, 'Tantariles', appeared to confirm all his fears. Sébastien conceded 32.1 seconds to the leader over the 28.62 km. 'Loelle' (SS2) reassured the Citroën camp : Seb, 3rd fastest, only lost 3.4 sec. Even better, the French driver managed to set the fastest time in 'Tepilora', the last SS of the loop. " At the start, I lost more time than expected," Seb admitted during the midday service. "There was a lot of sand to clear off the road, and the small change I made to the differentials did not prove to be efficient. I went back to the original settings for the next special stages, which went better…"
Sébastien retained this set-up and once more put his trust in the medium Michelin Z tyres for the second time through the day's three speed tests. The improvement in his times gave an idea of that of the terrain : he gained almost two seconds per kilometre covered ! Conceding 8 seconds in 'Tantariles', Seb's time was nearly up with the top times in 'Loelle' and 'Tepilora'. Third after a day as 'sweeper', he had good reason to be satisfied :" The road position naturally penalised me today, but except for SS1, where Petter Solberg set an astonishing time, it was a good day, with a good fight with Marcus Grönholm. I will continue at my chosen pace tomorrow …"
Carlos Sainz underlined the extreme difficulty of the Sardinian route at the start of the day : "The special stages are really narrow and slippery. You have to be extremely alert at all times to avoid making mistakes. I did the best I could in this area, and I still made two mistakes. One in the first corner of the first special stage, the other when I hit the left rear wing in the second test. I had a few other tricky moments, but the second loop went well. We tried to find a good compromise in terms of the suspensions so that we are at ease in the rough sections, but also good in the fast ones. We fought hard all day, and we will do likewise tomorrow…"