Citroen ready to pounce At the end of the first day of the Swedish Rally, held under beautiful blue skies, the Citroen Xsaras of Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and FranÃ§ois Duval/StÃ©phane PrÃ©vot arrived in Karlstad this evening in third and ...
Citroen ready to pounce
At the end of the first day of the Swedish Rally, held under beautiful blue skies, the Citroen Xsaras of Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and François Duval/Stéphane Prévot arrived in Karlstad this evening in third and fifth positions respectively.
The day had been divided up in a relatively simple fashion with three special stages, each being run twice, the only difference being that the afternoon loop was lengthened as night fell to include the first visit to the "Hagfors Sprint" super special.
In the morning the drivers were not sure what conditions they would encounter because during the reconnaissance there had been no snow at all, the stages being a mixture of hard earth and ice. The shakedown however had been conducted with two inches of snow on the ground. Was this snow, which was quickly dispersed around Hagfors, still there in the other stages, particularly the most northern one of Likenäs ?
There was a pleasant surprise. The snow ploughs had passed by flattening and compacting the snow.
"Likenäs was perhaps a little more icy," explained Seb, "with snow on the top. Hara (ES2) produced some astonishing grip and ES3 was not bad either in this respect. We played safe with the tyres and so we had better performance."
After he set three second fastest times, Seb was logically lying second overall, a tenth of a second behind Marcus Grönholm and a tenth ahead of Petter Solberg!
On the second loop of stages, the state of the ground, or rather how it might have changed for the worse, was the major topic of discussion. Reckoning on a deterioration of the conditions Seb kept the same settings as his first run and was surprised by the lack of grip under braking at one point at the start of the Likenäs 2 stage (SS4) and went straight on! They rejoined without any damage and they won SS5 and the Hagfors super special and so ended the day ready to pounce on the leader 10,2 seconds ahead. "We were lucky to go straight on at an intersection but we ended up with the nose in a small ditch. We had to reverse out and we lost 18 seconds there. Tomorrow it should be a good fight with Marcus, Petter, and Gianluigi Galli."
Guy Fréquelin asked François Duval to play it safe. The Belgian rising star obeyed the instructions to the letter and ended the day with the second fastest time on stage 7, making it a Xsara 1-2.
"This morning," Francois explained, "I had understeering problems which to some extent was caused by the fact that I was driving defensively. Without snowbanks to forgive errors, it was difficult to go 100%. But increasing my rhythm a little I found that the car was easier to handle and that made it easier for me on the second loop. I am fifth at the moment, not far behind the leaders and I am surprised by that, given that I have not been driving at the maximum. It seems like a good strategy."