Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo break the ice!
The first day of Rally Sweden was the scene of a no-holds-barred battle in which every second counted, and it enabled the Citroen Total World Rally Team to clearly state their ambitions for the coming season in the first round. Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are currently lying second overall 6''2 behind the leader. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti are also in the fight for first place and are in third position 4''4 behind their team-mates.
The rally began on Thursday evening with the first run through the super special on the Karlstad horse racing course. Dani Sordo had the bit between his teeth and he delighted the Swedish crowd by setting the first scratch time of the 2010 season. After a quick bit of shut-eye the teams quit the headquarters of the Varmland county well before dawn, and headed north to the service park on the Hagfors airport.
The first run through the Likenas special was the real kick-off of the season. Against all odds, Sebastien Loeb took advantage of his position of first on the road and set the quickest time: "The organisers did a great job and swept the surface after the reconnaissance runs. We were able to make the most of a nice sheet of ice." The 6-time world champion repeated his performance in SS3 with Dani Sordo in his wake who put on an impressive display of driving on this type of surface.
Seb just missed setting the quickest time in SS4 by four-tenths of a second and he arrived back in the service park in the lead with 4.1s in hand over Mikko Hirvonen: "I like these conditions when the grip is consistent and you can choose your line using the whole road. The gaps are very small and I think the second loop will be more difficult. We'll probably have to cope with a road full of ruts after all the cars have gone through."
Dani Sordo in third place, 6s behind the leader, also said it had been a positive morning: "Apart from SS4 where I wasn't really in the groove the first loop went off well for us. We feel more confident than ever but you can't afford to let up and you must stay concentrated."
As he feared, Sebastien Loeb was handicapped by his position of being first on the road in the second run through the specials. The C4 WRC driver lost around ten seconds to Mikko Hirvonen in Likenas 2, as well as the lead in the rally. In the next two specials he managed to keep the gap constant and arrived back in the service park 8.4s behind his rival. "I don't like it when the car isn't doing what I want" he acknowledged. "There wasn't much grip and I couldn't get out of the ruts filled with soft snow and earth. But it's still all up for grabs and we'll see tomorrow how Mikko will cope with being first out. In any case if somebody has to act as sweeper second time round, it won't be me!"
Dani Sordo had a perfect day, and was all smiles: "I said before the start that I was aiming for a place on the podium, but I didn't think I'd be so close to Mikko and Seb! We're going to try and keep the same pace tomorrow."
The long day finally ended with a second run through the Karlstad super special, which didn't upset the overall hierarchy. Seb and Dani finished the first day in second and third places 6''6 and 10''6 behind the leader.