Summary Following last night's ceremonial start in the bustling streets of Trier, 86 competitors left a grey and overcast service park this morning to contest Leg 1 of Rallye Deutschland, the tenth round of the World...
Following last night's ceremonial start in the bustling streets of Trier, 86 competitors left a grey and overcast service park this morning to contest Leg 1 of Rallye Deutschland, the tenth round of the World Rally Championship.
Running through the vineyards of the Mosel region, Leg 1 comprised 148.64 competitive kilometres of slippery, narrow tarmac roads including a mixture of tight hairpin bends and long straights. Unlike any other rally in the 2002 WRC season, the route was an unknown quantity for most of the competing drivers, this being the first year that the rally has ever been included in the calendar.
Capitalising on the novel nature of the event and for once not handicapped by a lack of experience, Citroen's Sebastian Loeb dominated from the outset. The Frenchman charged through today's eight stages to clinch six wins and finish as overnight leader. He will start tomorrow 27 seconds ahead of Peugeot's Richard Burns, with team-mate Philippe Bulgalski a further 22 seconds behind.
In the 555 Subaru camp, Petter Solberg lies in tenth overall. The Norwegian set impressive times throughout the day and with little time separating the top drivers, is just 16 seconds off sixth place. Teammate Tommi Mäkinen is in fifteenth position. However, with the top fifteen cars running in reverse order tomorrow, he is excellently placed to capitalise on an advantageous running position and attack from the outset. After a small mistake on the first stage, Achim Mörtl's confidence and speed grew with every km behind the wheel on his Subaru debut, whilst team-mate Toshi Arai promising run was ended with a gearbox problem after SS4.
SS1 0758hrs Dhrontal 1 (12.42km)
Fastest time: Burns (Peugeot) and Gronholm (Peugeot) 8:27.9 The first stage presented drivers with a sprint along a main road section followed by a series of twisty, narrow bends running through the Mosel vineyards. Overnight rain and fog had left the roads slippery yet the conditions didn't prove a problem for Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns who finished joint quickest. Citroen's Sebastian Loeb was third, with Ford's Sainz and McRae fourth and fifth respectively. An unfortunate start though for Subaru driver Tommi Mäkinen. On one of the tight hairpins he pulled his handbrake lever so hard that it broke off. He dropped over forty seconds to finish 20th quickest. Team-mate Petter Solberg was sixth, 7.4 seconds behind the overall leader. On his debut for the Subaru team, the Austrian driver Achim Mörtl slid wide on a left-hand corner and damaged his right rear wheel and brake disc on a kerb. He completed the stage slowly and, after making roadside repairs, was able to continue through to SS2.
SS2 0849hrs Schönes Moselland 1 (23.82km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 14:10.8 Sebastian Loeb set a blistering pace and came right back at the Peugeot's of Gronholm and Burns to set the fastest time - 0.2 seconds quicker than the Peugeot pair who were second and third respectively. Winner of last year's (non WRC) rally, Philippe Bulgalski, was fourth for Citroen while local hero Armin Schwarz delighted fans by finishing fifth fastest in his Hyundai Accent WRC3. Petter Solberg finished seventh, while team-mate Mäkinen, who drove superbly despite using a make-shift handbrake, finished twelfth. Toshi Arai was 22nd.
SS3 0932hrs Moselwein 1 (22.28 km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 13.24.2
Loeb continued to set the pace and stormed through to finish 14 seconds clear. His win catapulted him to the top of the leaderboard, eleven seconds ahead of Richard Burns in second. Loeb's team-mate Bugalski came home second to complete a Citroen one-two. However, it wasn't all good news for the French team. Jesus Puras came to a standstill in the stage and eventually retired with an electrical fault. Difficulties too for World Championship leader Marcus Gronholm. The Finn lost more than 30 seconds with a hydraulic problem and tumbled down the leaderboard to sixth overall, 41.7 seconds behind Loeb. Petter Solberg capitalised on Gronholm's misfortune, finished fourth, and moved up to third place overall. Mäkinen, still making do with his improvised handbrake lever, finished a credible 14th. After the stage, crews headed back to the service park in Trier for the second service of the day.
SS4 1210hrs Dhrontal 2 (12.42km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 8:23.8
No repeat of the dramas of SS1 on the second run of the day through the demanding Dhrontal test. Loeb produced another mesmerising performance for Citroen and finished quickest, 4.6 seconds faster than second placed Marcus Gronholm and increased his overall lead to 16.2 seconds. Following a slow start for Ford, Colin McRae picked up the pace and finished third quickest, just half a second behind Marcus. Subaru's star Petter Solberg continued his impressive run and, confident from his podium finish in Finland, finished fifth quickest to remain third overall. Meanwhile, his team-mate Mäkinen, now driving with a new handbrake lever, finished 16th ahead of Peugeot's Rovanpera. Toshi Arai was 18th and Achim Mörtl, who had had the right rear corner of his Impreza replaced in service, finished 19th.
SS5 1301hrs Schönes Moselland 2 (23.82km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 13:53.8
As the sun came out over Trier so did the spectators. As a result the second run of the day through the 23.82km stage was delayed while additional marshals were brought in to dispel the swarming crowds. Once up and running, Loeb repeated his earlier performance and tore through the test to finish quickest by two seconds and clinch his fourth win. He held an overall lead of 25.7 seconds in front of Burns. Team-mate Bulgalski came in second to complete another Citroen one-two, while Freddy Loix finished third in his Accent WRC3. The Belgian's sprint was enough to move him up to sixth in the overall standings. Solberg finished eighth quickest, hampered by a power steering problem. Bad luck for Subaru's Japanese star Toshi Arai who, having struggled with the slippery conditions earlier in the day, retired on the road section just 1km from the start of SS5 with a gearbox problem.
SS6 1409hrs Stein und Wein / Fell - Ruwertal 1 (15.80kms)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 8:33.5
Loeb continued to dominate the action and charged through SS6 to notch up another win. Richard Burns was less than a second slower yet he still trailed the flying Frenchman by 26.6 seconds overall. Looking to make up time following his earlier difficulties, Gronholm was third quickest and moved up two places to eighth overall. Despite still being hampered with intermittent power steering, Solberg was tenth quickest and retained overall fifth position. Mäkinen was twelfth and Mörtl, whose confidence was growing with every stage kilometre, was seventeenth.
SS7 1637hrs Moselwein 2 (22.28km)
The second run of the day through the 22,28 Moselwein stage was cancelled due to concerns over the large number of spectators.
SS8 1740hrs Stein und Wein / Fell - Ruwertal 2 (15.80km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 8:31.5
No dramas on the last stage of the day. Staying on the pace, Loeb notched up another win, finishing just 0.4 seconds faster than Richard Burns, who was second and securing the overnight lead. Gronholm was third. Power steering problems for Colin McRae meant that he finished only eighth quickest yet he remained in fourth place overall, 21.4 seconds behind Bulgalski. A good run by Mäkinen saw him finish eighth - less than ten seconds behind Loeb. Lying in fifteenth place overall he will start tomorrow's leg first on the road. Solberg was twelfth fastest.
Running through the private military area at Baumholder, the drivers will contest 164.44k of competitive kms over eight stages. In a Leg very different to today's drivers will face rougher conditions on the broken asphalt tracks. The first stage starts at 0930hrs.