Peugeot driver Richard Burns leads the Rallye Deutschland after the opening leg, having set four fastest stage times out of seven today. The Englishman returns to Parc Ferme in Trier with a nine-second lead over team mate Marcus Gronholm. The...
Peugeot driver Richard Burns leads the Rallye Deutschland after the opening leg, having set four fastest stage times out of seven today. The Englishman returns to Parc Ferme in Trier with a nine-second lead over team mate Marcus Gronholm. The third factory Peugeot of Gilles Panizzi ends leg one in fifth place.
Richard started first on the road today but felt that this was an advantage on the opening two stages, as he did not have to negotiate any mud and gravel thrown up by previous competitors. However, this advantage was cancelled out over the remaining stages where the surfaces were dirty for everyone. Despite this, Richard drove brilliantly to capitalise on his excellent start. His 206 WRC was completely reliable today, and the only setback he had was a tyre mousse vibration on SS4.
"It's been an excellent day but there's still a long way to go," said Richard at final service. "I'm very happy with the way I've driven and very happy with the car too. Every stage has been good and I've enjoyed myself. But it's much too early to draw any conclusions."
Although the Rallye Deutschland is the first true asphalt rally of the year, it is not at all typical of most sealed-surface events. There are plenty of surfaces changes, that give inconsistent levels of grip and traction. Today's stages varied from narrow and slippery vineyard roads to rough and broken concrete on the Baumholder military ranges. Conditions remained dry, although there were sporadic threats of rain.
Reigning World Champion Marcus Gronholm ended the day second, having built up his speed steadily throughout the opening stages. He too was happy with his overnight position, but felt that he could have driven better on a couple of today's stages. His Peugeot 206 WRC was totally reliable throughout the 117 competitive kilometres of leg one. "The car has been good, but it took me a little while to get the right feeling," said Marcus. "I think we got better as the day went on, but so much can still happen. If it rains tomorrow, everything could be completely different. Whatever happens, we have to try and attack. The fighting feeling is coming !"
Asphalt ace Gilles Panizzi was feeling the effects of his lack of experience on the Rallye Deutschland, having been forced to miss it last year through injury. He was unhappy with his brakes through the opening loop of stages, then he hit a bump on the second loop which badly affected his 206 WRC's handling. On the final stages Gilles felt more confident and was beginning to find a better rhythm.
"It's not been an easy day for me," said Gilles. "I knew this would be a difficult rally for us but I am confident it will get better. We've been a bit unlucky with a couple of things but the biggest problem is my inexperience here. Anyway, we're still here and our position is not so bad. Tomorrow is another day."
Cedric Robert, driving a 2003-specification Peugeot 206 WRC run by Bozian Racing finished the opening leg in eighth position. The Frenchman had a good run and showed himself consistently capable of setting top five times.
Tomorrow's action consists of nine special stages totalling 169 kilometres. The crews will have to face the abrasive tests of Baumholder once more, as well as some other stages on more conventional asphalt roads. With a closely-packed field and uncertain conditions, anything could happen.