Held on roads through the Mosel vineyards, the first leg of Rallye Deutschland provided rich pickings for Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena. On one of their favoured surfaces, the eight-time World Champions grabbed the overall lead after the first stage. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen had a more difficult first day, at the end of which they found themselves down in sixth spot, 48.9s adrift of their team-mates.
As is customary at Rally Germany, the stages on day one were concentrated around the banks of the Mosel river. In spite of the thunderstorms that had struck overnight, the roads winding through the German wine-producing region were largely dry, except for the first few miles of SS1. The Citroën DS3 WRCs therefore set off from the service park this morning fitted with ‘hard’ Michelin Pilot Sport tyres.
Sébastien Loeb immediately wasted no time in reminding his rivals of his intention to win the event for the ninth time. In setting the fastest time on the Mittelmosel, Moselland and Gradschaft stages, he built up a healthy 13s lead over Petter Solberg. “It’s a little bit trickier this year, because we are running the stages in the opposite direction to usual and so we have had to re-familiarize ourselves with the pitfalls of these roads,” noted the rally leader. “The quick sections are narrow and lined with pavements, and the hairpins break up the rhythm. Things are going well for us though, as we haven’t had any real scares.”
After finishing third on SS1, Mikko Hirvonen was back in fifth at the day’s halfway point: “Although the roads are dry, my confidence is not so good on the dirtier sections. I didn’t drive very well this morning, but it was a bit better on SS3. We are going to try a more flexible set-up this afternoon.”
Although he only won one stage in the afternoon, Sébastien Loeb continued to move further ahead. At the end of day one, the gap to Petter Solberg had broken through the twenty-second mark: “The road was pretty dry and dusty on the second runs, but everything went well. Overall, it’s been a perfect day for us. Although I controlled the race from the front today and I already have a significant lead over my closest challengers, I’m certainly not out of the woods yet, especially with two runs on Panzerplatte scheduled tomorrow.”
The afternoon's action saw Mikko set times that were fairly close to those of his team-mate. The Finn nonetheless had to relinquish fifth place to Dani Sordo, who moved two seconds clear: “I felt a bit better this afternoon. The car was perfect, it’s more a question of what's going on in my head. I find myself in a similar situation to Monte-Carlo. I was driving too aggressively, trying to force myself and it just didn't work! In some sections, I didn’t push, I just tried to be as clean as possible and I was quicker. I have to keep working on this point. I’m still optimistic, especially because I like the configuration of day two.”
“Seb drove brilliantly again,” emphasized Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “When the conditions are tricky, he knows not to take any unnecessary risks. But as soon as the road is dry, he pushes straight away and moves ahead of his rivals. It’s good to have built up a small cushion, but we are perfectly aware that a rally is never over before you get to the very end. The day was more difficult for Mikko, who still has more to learn about driving the DS3 on tarmac. He is in a similar situation to the one he experienced at the start of the season on gravel: he needs to change his driving style to adapt to our car. When the stages are as difficult as they were today, that is no easy task.”
NEUVILLE EYES UP A PODIUM SPOT
After taking fourth place on SS2, Thierry Neuville held firm as he made a solid and consistent start to the rally. The Citroën Junior World Rally Team driver is just five seconds behind third-placed Jari-Matti Latvala. “Although there are some points that could be perfected, I’m really pleased with how things went today,” confirmed the Belgian. “Seb Loeb was quicker than everyone today, but we were very close to the times of the other competitors all day. But it all starts again tomorrow. Tyre management on the Baumholder stages seems to be one of the keys to success here. I still want that podium spot, so I’ll have to keep pushing.”
The other two DS3 WRCs taking part in this rally hold 10th and 11th position in the overall standings, with Peter Van Merksteijn Jr. just ahead of Nasser Al-Attiyah. “I didn’t feel confident this morning, but it was better this afternoon,” said the Qatari. “I think it will be even better tomorrow. I want to prepare properly for the season’s remaining two tarmac rallies.”