Petter Solberg (Subaru) opened a 7.5sec lead with fastest time on the first two stages. However, the Norwegian made changes to his car's suspension before the third test, badly affecting the handling and he slipped to third. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) moved ahead, despite feeling unhappy with his stud selection. The Norwegian regained the lead on the penultimate stage but Grönholm snatched it back on the last test and leads by just 0.2sec. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was comfortable in second until he overshot a junction and slid into a ditch 4km from the start of the fourth stage, dropping almost 20 seconds and sliding to fourth. He regained third from Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) who was the big surprise. The Italian was in the top six all day and set fastest time on stage six. François Duval (Citroen) overcame understeer problems to hold fifth, ahead of Markko Märtin (Peugeot), who spun on the opening stage and struggled for confidence. Daniel Carlsson (Peugeot) lay third until he was one of many to hit the same rock as Kresta in the third stage, breaking his car's front left suspension and losing one minute. Private entrant Mikko Hirvonen also hit the stone, the impact ripping off his front wheel and dropping him off the leaderboard. Ford had a difficult day with Gardemeister improving to 7th in the afternoon, but he will be hoping for more. Skoda endured some niggling problems which prevented them ending the day with a better result. 2nd place for Paasonen on stage 5 was promising though.
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.
Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "Likenäs was perhaps a little more icy, 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."
Francois Duval / Stephane Prevot: This morning, 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."
At the end of the first day of the Swedish Rally, Petter Solberg holds second position overall, just 0.2 seconds off Marcus Gronholm's overall lead. Demonstrating an impressive pace aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004, the Norwegian took two stage wins and set a string of top-three times.
Making their Swedish Rally debuts with the team, Chris Atkinson and Stephane Sarrazin concentrated on gaining experience of the specialist conditions in their Impreza WRCs. Building in confidence with every stage, the pair ended the Leg well inside the top-20 and are looking for further improvement tomorrow.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "A very interesting day! Too bad I lost some time on the third stage, but apart from that everything has been okay. So far, for me, this has been one of my best Sweden Rallies. It's a great atmosphere out there, lots of Norwegian people, lots of support - it's incredible. There's a lot of changing conditions on the stages, changing grip levels all the time, even between each car, so I'm quite happy to find a driving style that works quite well. There's been no big attack yet, but it will happen sometime in the next two days."
Stephane Sazzazin/Denis Gairaudet: "It was good today, difficult certainly, but I'm here to learn and I think I've made some little improvements with every stage. I'm not completely happy with my performance, as I don't think I pushed hard enough in some places, but it is only the first day and I hope to keep making little changes and increasing the speed tomorrow and on Sunday."
Chris Atkinson/Glen Macneall: "It's been a pretty interesting day, my first time in a WRC car and the first time here in Sweden. Overall I feel pretty good about the way it's gone, sure there have been a few ups and downs, but that's all part of the learning curve. Some places today I felt my driving came together well, it was all there, while at other times I had to throttle right back and re-gain the feeling before increasing the speed again. To be one second off the pace was no surprise, I know I have the speed when everything comes together, and tomorrow I'm hoping to learn and improve some more."
A solid afternoon performance enabled BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen to recover from a disappointing morning and end today's opening leg of the Swedish Rally in a points-scoring position. The Finns lie seventh in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, heading the BP-Ford squad after a tough day's competition on snow and ice-covered tracks in central Sweden. Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud, driving an M-Sport run Focus RS but nominated for points by Ford, are 11th after pushing for a top six place earlier in the day. Roman Kresta and Jan Tománek, driving the second BP-Ford Focus RS are 12th, the Czechs gaining in confidence on the wintry roads on only their second visit to this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "We were sliding all over the road, even on the straight sections this morning. I was driving at maximum but the back of the car was sliding badly. I wasn't able to follow Loeb's line on the road because that was straight and we weren't. I was confused. This afternoon was much better but I still don't think I've had the kind of grip I need. We made our pace notes on the recce in dry and clear conditions so this morning, in the snow and ice, they were too fast but that was the same for everyone. Tomorrow I will set the dampers a little softer to see if that improves the grip,"
Roman Kresta/Jan Tomanek: "I had a small problem in the third stage this morning. The correct line meant taking big cuts in the corners and in these conditions that risked punctures. Midway through I hit a stone on a fast left corner and damaged the front left tyre. However, Michelin's mousse system worked well to keep the tyre inflated and we lost no time. The same happened in stage four when I again cut a corner but this time it was the front right tyre. Tomorrow I will go faster because I have more confidence, but only one small step faster because I don't want to make a mistake."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "I became more confident all the time and this Focus is the best car I've driven. I made a good tyre choice this morning and I don't think I lost a single stud. My problem this afternoon came on stage six. I must have cut a corner and hit a stone, although I can't recall it. The impact punctured the front left tyre and the mousse didn't work. The tyre went down and I drove quite slowly to the finish. Tomorrow is flat out!"
The opening day of the Rally Sweden has seen a fierce battle over the icy stages, with Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm emerging in a slender lead from the Subaru of Petter Solberg. Peugeot Markko Martin ends the leg in sixth place, while a third 307 WRC driven by up-and-coming Swede Daniel Carlsson is 13th overall after losing time with suspension damage.
Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: "I'm very pleased to be in the lead, but I am not a hundred percent happy with some of the settings on my car: there are still some areas in which we can improve. Today was quite difficult as the stages in the afternoon were not in very good condition, so it became a question of looking after the tyres to make sure that all the studs stayed in. I am feeling quite confident for tomorrow, but I am sure that everybody is hoping for a bit more snow to make this a proper winter rally!"
Markko Martin/Michael Park: "A high-speed spin on the first stage cost me more than 10 seconds. I changed the differential settings after the first loop of stages, and the car became easier to handle and predict. I know now the right direction in which we should go in order to improve our performance."
Mattias Ekström, Janne Tuohino and Jani Paasonen hold 9th, 10th and 14th places respectively after the opening day of the Swedish Rally. All three Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team drivers set times in the top six during the day with Jani taking fifth fastest on the opening stage of the rally and second fastest on SS5.
Janne Tuohino/Mikko Markkula: "I drove too cautiously at times today and was a little bit delayed behind Mikko Hirvonen on SS3. This afternoon the stages were much worse than I expected with a lot of gravel. I had some gear selection problems on the last stage tonight but otherwise I'm quite happy with the performance and I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
Mattias Ekstrom/Stefan Bergman: "This was a good first day although there were a couple of mistakes but they were my own fault.. I have been able to attack with confidence and I managed to set some competitive times so I have every reason to think I can go well again tomorrow."
Jani Paasonen/Janni Vainikka: "I stalled the Fabia WRC twice in the first two stages which was a bit frustrating as it stopped me setting three fast times instead of just one. I went off the road briefly on the last real stage and you can't afford to make mistakes on this rally as the time gaps are so small that even a little problem means you lose a lot of places. The second fastest time showed just what is possible."
After the opening leg of the 2005 Swedish Rally, the Italian Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew of "Gigi" Galli and Guido D'Amore have powered up the leaderboard into fourth position, setting one fastest stage time en route to their best position in a world rally. Team-mates Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen hold eighth position in the second Lancer WRC05.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietiläinen: "It has not been the easiest day for us. I'm not exactly sure what the problem is but the car is very sideways all the time and it's difficult to hold a line. The team will make more changes to the settings for tomorrow and we'll see what difference this makes. Our set-up is very very close to Gigi's, but I think now with some more modifications to the suspension and balance, we will be even closer to what he is running and hopefully this will help."
Gigi Galli/Guido D'Amore: "For me our result is a big surprise! The car and tire choice has all been perfect today and I am quite shocked by my driving, but I have been thinking about everything that can make a difference and we have to be very happy. All the time the car gets better and better with the on-going development work, but there are still two days to go and even though we are obviously very happy, I am trying to keep focused and calm because unless we finish the rally, I have not done my job or the right one for Mitsubishi."