WRC

Rally Sardinia: Leg one summary

Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) took an early lead but the Finn rolled on the third stage and dropped 1min 45sec. However, he recovered well and is seventh. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) moved to the front after stiffening his suspension settings following...

Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) took an early lead but the Finn rolled on the third stage and dropped 1min 45sec. However, he recovered well and is seventh. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) moved to the front after stiffening his suspension settings following the first stage and ended the day with a 31.7sec lead. He set four fastest times. Francois Duval was on course to give the French team a one-two until he rolled midway through stage five and retired. Petter Solberg (Subaru) slid off briefly on both the opening two stages but climbed back from sixth to second.

Front punctures on the second and third stages slowed Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) but he recovered to fourth behind Hirvonen. Markko Martin (Peugeot) rounded off the top six, despite a poor tyre choice this morning. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) ran as high as third but hit a rock and ripped off the right rear wheel 7km from the finish and retired. A broken rear brake pipe hampered Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) in the second stage but worse was to come as broken rear suspension sidelined the Italian in the fifth stage.

Following last night's ceremonial start in the exclusive resort of Porto Rotondo, 66 competitors started Rally Italia Sardinia at 0800hrs this morning

Leg one included a group of three stages, which were then repeated. Located south of Olbia within the Monte Acuto region, the six stages comprised 139.70 competitive kilometres

Conditions were bright and sunny throughout the day. The air temperature was 18C in the morning, rising to 25C by the afternoon. Stages were dry gravel

The second leg is the longest of the rally and is based south-west of Olbia. After re-starting at 08.00, the day begins with the longest two tests of the rally. After service, competitors face a short stage which will be broadcast live on television before a second pass over the morning tests. The five stages cover 144.01km and the drivers return to Olbia at 18.42.

Citroen

It's never over until the finish line has been crossed, and that adage proved true once again today when Citroën's hopes of a close formation finish in Sardinia were dashed in a matter of seconds on SS5 ('Crastazza 2'). Minutes previously, the team's two Xsara WRCs had held the top two positions, with Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena leading Francois Duval/Stephane Prevot by 9.1s and everything seemed to be running smoothly.

Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "It only took a couple of corners for me to realise that the suspension settings were a bit too soft since the rear had tended to float about too much. Also, in the trees, I was hampered by the dust thrown up by Petter [Solberg]. Between SS1 and SS2, I adjusted the front and rear shock absorber settings by a number of clicks and immediately knew on SS2 that we had gone in the right direction, as revealed by our splits and fastest times over the last two stages of the first loop!"

Francois Duval / Stephane Prevot: The end of SS5 unfortunately Francois Duval was to leave Loeb alone at the top of the field. "I turned in a little too late over a crest noted '80 right'," explained the Belgian. "I went wide into the rocks which sent the car into a roll. I think we rolled twice and the car eventually came to a stop on its right side. It didn't take long to get it back on its wheels and get started again but we saw almost at once that we had lost the rear left wheel and we had to stop."

Subaru

Subaru driver Petter Solberg holds second place on Rally Italia Sardinia tonight after a gruelling day of competition. Despite running first on the road, the Norwegian delivered a string of competitive times aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2005 to end the day 31 seconds behind the leader, Sebastien Loeb. Chris Atkinson quickly found his pace in his Impreza WRC2005 and traded times with drivers with far more experience to climb as high as third overall. On his first ever gravel rally, Stephane Sarrazin concentrated on gaining experience of the loose surface conditions. Increasing in confidence throughout the day, he ended the Leg well inside the top-20 and intent on further improvement throughout the weekend.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: I'm very pleased to finish today in second place. Sebastien has done a good job and I've been working very hard out there, let me tell you. First on the road here is a very tough place to be, it is so slippery and I had a couple of spins in the morning. Since then, we've had a few things to contend with like no brakes for some of SS4 and a very difficult road surface for our tyres, but that's how it is in rallying and we just have to deal with it. In the past the Pirellis have been so strong in these conditions, but we can see now that the competition has taken a big step forward. I must say I have enormous respect for both tyre companies; their battle is as fierce as the ones between the drivers and the manufacturers. In some particular conditions it seems the competition is ahead just now, but with the work that Pirelli are doing, I'm 100 per cent sure we will get a better tyre. This rally isn't over yet though, it's very rough and easy to make a mistake. I think we'll see a good fight over the next couple of days.

Chris Atkinson/Glen Macneall: Obviously it's disappointing not to able to finish the day, but I guess we found out just how rough these stages are. The rock that took the wheel off had been getting gradually more and more uncovered as every car drove over it, in the end ours was just one of the three cars that caught it at the wrong time. There have been plenty of positives about the day too. This morning went very well, we set some good times in some very tricky road conditions. In the afternoon we tried a harder compound tyre, in hindsight that wasn't the right thing to do, but we got some useful comparison information. The car's not badly damaged, so I'm expecting that we'll get back out there again tomorrow and learn some more.

Stephane Sarrazin/Denis Giraudet : Very good, I'm feeling very positive about today. The start was perhaps a little too cautious, especially on the first stage, but then I pushed a little harder and I'm able to swap times with people like Kresta, Galli and Tuohino who have far more experience. Of course it is just my first day on a gravel rally, so I am taking care not to push too hard, but it is very encouraging and I am really looking forward to driving the car again tomorrow.

Ford

Two Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars held top five positions after a dramatic first day of the Rally Italia Sardinia. BP-Ford World Rally Team's Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen staged a tremendous fightback up the leaderboard after delays this morning to end the leg in fifth. But the surprise of the rally was the performance of private entrants Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, who took full advantage of improved road conditions further down the start order to claim third.

Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "I hit the rock with the right front wheel less than 1km after the start of the stage," said 30-year-old Gardemeister. "The handling was bad for the rest of the stage. After the finish I checked the damage and the steering arm was bent like a banana. I used a rock to try to straighten it. That worked a little, but not enough. For the next two stages I just had to drive steadily and concentrate on keeping the car on the road. I couldn't attack. It was quite a big impact with the rock but Michelin's ATS mousse system worked well and kept the tyre inflated until the end."

Roman Kresta/Jan Mo¾ný: "It was a difficult morning and I had to concentrate hard," said Kresta. "It was rough with many ruts and all I could do was stay in the tracks and drive in them. I had one small incident on the second stage when I overshot a junction and used the handbrake to spin the car round. I made the spring settings slightly harder this afternoon and things were much better. But about 2km after the start of stage four I had a problem with the gearchange. The semi-automatic system wasn't working properly so I switched to the back-up manual system. That meant I had no handbrake, and I stalled a few times at tight hairpins when I really needed the handbrake to bring the car around."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen : "The car is easy to drive, exactly how I wanted it," said Hirvonen. "I gained an awful lot from my road position this morning. I had a few lucky escapes but I tried to drive neatly through the corners and then flat out everywhere else, even over all the rocks and the rough sections. I will try to keep the same pace tomorrow but I'm sure Toni will trying just as hard to catch me."

Peugeot

Marcus Gronholm, who picked hard tyres, surprised all his rivals by setting the quickest time over the opening stage which was nearly 30 kilometres long. His compatriot Harri Rovanpera, who set second fastest time, was 9 seconds behind followed by Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb, 10 and 20 seconds off Marcus's benchmark respectively! Marcus set second-fastest time on the following stage but unfortunately he was caught out by the third stage. The Finn was surprised by a sudden hairpin bend after a flat left, and could not avoid going off the road, rolling down a hillside. Marcus ended up with the car on its side on the road below. Some spectators pushed him back onto his wheels and a minute and a half later Marcus was away again, having clearly lost the lead of the rally.

Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: It's not been an easy day for us, but without the roll in the morning I think I could have been in the lead. I rolled the car because there was a little bit of asphalt road in the middle of the stage, and I did not have as much grip as I thought. In the afternoon it was more difficult, and I struggled quite a bit. But we have set two fastest times today which shows what the car is capable of. After the accident it did not feel completely right, so I think with a perfect car I would have gone even quicker.

Markko Martin/Michael Park: It's not been an exceptional day, and I have ended up with sixth overnight. I've still got a lot to learn about the tyre range here in Sardinia, and it was difficult to know how to make the right choice. The stages were very rough - even more than I expected - so it was mostly a question of staying out of trouble. The car was perfect mechanically, and I hope we can move further up the leader board tomorrow.

Mitsubishi

The Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew of Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen hold a fine fourth overall at the end of the opening leg of Rally Italia Sardinia, round five of the FIA World Rally Championship. Team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido D'Amore were on the pace from the outset of the event, but the Italians were forced onto the sidelines after stage five with broken rear suspension.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "Our first day result is good and we've had no technical problems", said the Finn back in Olbia this evening. "The feeling with the car is okay, but the roads are very bumpy and rough and generally it's much hotter than we expected. It's a very difficult rally and although we're pushing hard, it's not so easy. We ran a harder specification damper this afternoon and maybe the car was more stable, especially in the fast corners. But we have to wait and see what happens tomorrow with the tires, as maybe this will be an issue".

Gigi Galli/Guido D'Amore: "We didn't hit anything but the suspension suddenly broke and the rear wheel came off", said a disappointed Gigi. "There seems to be a cloud hanging over our car on each rally at the moment. But, we have the opportunity to run in SUPERally tomorrow and hopefully we can continue to show a good pace and gain more experience and understanding of the conditions. On the positive side, there is a big improvement with the dampers; I think our time and Harri's this morning say that for themselves".

Skoda

©koda Motorsport World Rally Team drivers Armin Schwarz and Janne Tuohino hold eighth and 15th places respectively after the opening day of Rally Italia-Sardinia, the fifth round of the 2005 World Rally Championship. Today's opening leg was run under clear blue skies and in temperatures of close to 30 degrees at times. Over today's six stages run to the south of the rally base at Olbia (including one that used roads within a prison complex) Armin set top 10 times on four stages. Janne suffered a gear selection problem this morning but climbed the leaderboard this afternoon and also got into the top 10 times.

Janne Tuohino/Mikko Markkula: This morning I had trouble with the gear-shift system and so it was tough to fight back this afternoon. I had hoped to finish just outside the top 15 but the other drivers were able to adjust their pace and it means I must start first on the road tomorrow which will not be so easy, especially in the morning. In the afternoon there should be more grip but the roads will be rougher

Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: It has generally been a very good day for me. We found a good set-up in our pre-rally test and that has been right for today's stages. The roads are incredibly narrow and rough with deep ruts that you can not escape from. I've got a lot of confidence in the car's handling but I lost some time this afternoon with punctures. I think we can maintain our performance tomorrow.

-rallyenewsletter-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team