Team-mates Sebastien Loeb and Francois Duval (both Citroen) dominated the day, recording the fastest two times on all six stages. Loeb led initially but quickest time for Duval on the third test edged him in front by 3.2sec. However, Loeb was ...
Team-mates Sebastien Loeb and Francois Duval (both Citroen) dominated the day, recording the fastest two times on all six stages. Loeb led initially but quickest time for Duval on the third test edged him in front by 3.2sec. However, Loeb was fastest on all three afternoon stages to lead by 11.7sec. Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) lies a lonely third, 1min 11.5sec behind Loeb and more than a minute clear of Petter Solberg (Subaru), who spun on the opening stage. Markko Martin (Peugeot) held fourth but dropped down the order after clipping a wall on the third stage and ending the test with the right rear wheel down to the rim. Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru) lost sixth when he was hindered by a faulty handbrake on stage three and the Frenchman dropped two minutes on the penultimate test after spinning into a ditch. Team-mate Chris Atkinson lost time all morning with a lack of turbo boost. Alex Bengue (Skoda) retired on the third stage after crashing.
The second leg is the longest and toughest of the rally. Much of it is based on the challenging Baumholder military land, more commonly used by US soldiers for tank training exercises. The road surface varies almost constantly, including fast, wide asphalt, highly abrasive broken concrete, and treacherously slippery sand-covered cobblestones. There are more than 100 surface changes in only 48km of speed tests. The two Baumholder stages will be used twice, as will a more flowing Saarland test before the day ends with a spectacular stage through the streets of St Wendel. The seven tests cover 145.94km and after leaving Trier at 07.00, drivers return there at 20.01.
One-two finishes for Citroen's Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Francois Duval/Sven Smeets in each of today's six stages have enabled the Xsara WRC pair to pull out a handsome lead over their closest chaser, Marcus GrÃ¶nholm.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "It's practically been a perfect day," said the reigning World Champion. "It's been a good fight and there are two Citroens in front. I am not surprised by the times of Francois. He was my biggest challenger here last year and, if he hadn't had a clutch problem on SS4, it would have been an even closer run thing between the two of us. On the other hand, I'm pleasantly surprised by the gap we have pulled out, even over Marcus who is always quick here. I want to thank our technical team and our partner Michelin. I really have an excellent feeling with the car. We will simply adapt the set-up for tomorrow's stages which are run over a different sort of terrain."
Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "I have found my natural pace," enthused Francois Duval. "I'm very happy. It's been a good day, although the clutch tended to engage a little sharply and I stalled at the start of SS4, then again in a hairpin on the same stage. That probably cost me about 8 seconds. Seb and I were in front here last year, and we are again this time round. But it's not by any means over. Tomorrow's stages over the military ranges are very different. To ward off a possible come-back by our rivals, we will need to continue at the same pace, without losing sight of the fact that the main thing is to score as many points as possible for Citroen."
At the end of the first Leg of competition on Rallye Deutschland, Petter Solberg leads the Subaru challenge and holds fourth position overall. Solberg enjoyed a trouble-free run in his Impreza WRC2005, but despite his best efforts was unable to match the pace of Citroen's tarmac experts who dominated the day's action. Subaru's second points nominated driver, Stephane Sarrazin, set a string of top-10 stage times although his overall position was affected by a handbrake problem in the morning and a spin later in the day. On his first ever asphalt rally, Subaru's youngest driver, Chris Atkinson, controlled his pace carefully to gain experience of the specialist conditions.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: There have been no major problems today and I've had a good, smooth drive. The car has been good and I think we made the right tyre choices. We're not planning on making many big changes for tomorrow as the balance feels about right. It's a little frustrating that we cannot be further ahead, but I'm really trying.
Stephane Sarrazin/Denis Giraudet: I was very happy with my speed today but we then had the problem with the handbrake and then this afternoon lost a lot of time when I got stuck on a bank. I wasn't really going too fast, but there was a lot of dirt and gravel on the road then I made a small mistake, spinning and ending up stuck. Thanks to the spectators I got back on and there was no problem with the car so I could continue. The tyres were good today and I'm happy with my choices. The pace was good and I think I have a good car so am looking forward to being back tomorrow.
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: Today we did what we had to do. It's my first tarmac rally and after so few kilometres in the car on this surface, I didn't know what to expect. We ran at a safe pace to get the experience of the rally and while I know I could run quicker, I don't think we need to go out and do that on our first event!
Both BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings held top six places after today's opening leg of the Rallye Deutschland. Finns Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen led the team's challenge in fifth place in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, just a handful of seconds ahead of the similar car of Czech duo Roman Kresta and Jan TomÃ¡nek. A third privately-entered Focus RS, driven by Spain's Dani Sole and Xavier Amigo, is 10th.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: A close encounter with the vines left Gardemeister sixth after the opening loop. "I was about 20km into the first stage when I slid into a vineyard at a left bend just over a crest," said the 30-year-old. "I went a long way off and all I could see were grapes smashing into the windscreen. When I stopped I had to put the wipers on to clear the mess. I couldn't see where the road was for all the tall vines but somehow I found it and got back on. I punctured the front left and rear right tyres on some wires that were on the ground. I think I own the vineyard now - I know the grapes were white because there were plenty in the car! It also happened right in front of my manager."
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "I had a couple of scares in the mud on the first stage although I didn't take any risks," said 29-year-old Kresta. "I also hit a bank quite hard in the second stage but it wasn't a problem. I followed Manfred Stohl for quite a long way in the third stage, because he had crashed and regained the stage just in front of me. There were a lot of people in the road trying to get a good view of Manfred without realising I was close behind. It was a shame I didn't have a clear run because the conditions there suited my tyre choice perfectly." Kresta dropped 20 seconds on the opening stage this afternoon. "I was just too fast into the braking area for a long left-right sequence of bends. I spun and hit some hay bales with Jan's side of the car. I was quite lucky not to drop more time but I wish I hadn't made that mistake because I think I could have been fourth tonight otherwise," he added.
Marcus Gronholm has ended leg one of the Rally Deutschland, round 11 of the World Championship, in third place behind two Citroens after a day without incident. Markko Martin's 307 WRC slipped from fourth to seventh place after hitting a kerb in the morning and knocking a tyre off the wheel rim. The Peugeot drivers would have preferred damp conditions, but this weekend's weather forecast indicates a steady and noticeable improvement. They both chose soft slick tyres for the first loop of stages, then slightly harder tyres for the warmer conditions of the afternoon. Under these tricky circumstances, Marcus Gronholm held an impressive third place throughout the day and he returns to Parc Ferme 1m11s behind Loeb. Markko Martin got away with clipping a kerb on the opening stage but when it happened again, four kilometres from the end of SS3, the wheel came off the rim and he lost 30 seconds while limping to the end of the stage.
Marcus GronhÃ¶lm/Timo Rautiainen: "We are doing what we can -- the Citroens are in a class of their own. The best we can hope for is to finish third under normal conditions, although you never know what can happen. For the time being I do not have answer to their pace: the rally may as well be over now! But of course I will carry on and see what I can do. For the time being, we are just best of the rest."
Markko Martin/Michael Park: "It's a real pity we lost all that time in the morning: it was just a stupid thing where we slid a bit wide. I was quite surprised that the whole tyre came off the rim. I actually quite enjoy these vineyard roads; when it is going well I can get into quite a good rhythm with the car. Tomorrow we have the opportunity to make up some places, so we've got to attack -- even though I don't really like the Baumholder stages."
Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team drivers Armin Schwarz and Jan Kopecka ended the opening leg of Rallye Deutschland in ninth and 13th places respectively. However Alex Bengue was forced to retire from the event when he spun his Fabia WRC 05 into a vineyard near the end of SS3 and could not regain the road despite the help of the spectators.
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "I couldn't get the car working properly this morning but we solved the problem in service. This afternoon was good and we set two top 10 times but Baumholder could suit us better."
Alex Bengue/Caroline Escudero: "I am really upset at my mistake. We cut a hairpin near the end of the stage and the bank on the inside pushed the car into a spin. We ended up in the vineyard with a very steep slope back to the road. The spectators tried to help but it was too steep and we had to stop. The car was completely undamaged and we drove it back to service ourselves."
Jan Kopecka/Filip SchovÃ¡nek: "The stages are lined with hundreds of Czech fans waving flags and cheering. Maybe 30% are Czechs. There is a fantastic atmosphere and we must thank them all for giving us this support."
At the end of the first leg of Rallye Deutschland, the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew of "Gigi" Galli and Guido d'Amore head the team's assault in eighth position. The fight around them is however intense and less than 30 seconds is all that splits them from fourth position. Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team-mates Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen hold 11th, easing themselves back into asphalt rallying after an absence of three years.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "For sure it's not so easy after such a long time away from this surface", said Harri. "It's been a difficult day with some small mistakes like the stall on a hairpin in SS3 and then an overshoot in the following stage. We went for harder suspension this afternoon but there wasn't such a big difference, both settings worked well. We'll see what tomorrow brings, but the nature of the stages is very different".
Gigi Galli/Guido D'Amore: "We started very carefully this morning and I am trying to maintain a good pace, preferring to think of the experience", commented Gigi. "We have tried different set-ups to use this information for the future and although our tires this afternoon were maybe too soft, we wanted to try them to judge the performance. It still doesn't feel right to push harder tomorrow. Each leg is different and I don't want to make a mistake. You don't have to think about whether you want to go faster; if the feeling is right you just know".