Petter Solberg on the provisional podium
While the World Championship title is fought out between Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen on the Rally Great Britain, the Citroen Junior Team crews are fully stuck into the battle for the top places. Petter Solberg and Phil Mills have ended the opening day third. Despite a puncture, Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia occupy fifth place. Conrad Rautenbach and Daniel Barritt complete the C4 WRC line-up in eighth place.
By entering four Citroen C4 WRCs, the Citroen Junior Team took the start of the opening day of the Rally Great Britain with a new and ambitious line-up. Petter Solberg and Phil Mills, who are currently fifth in the World Rally Championship for drivers, left Cardiff at 0610 this morning to head for the centre of Wales and a loop of three special stages. On their first gravel event with the Citroen C4 WRC, the 2003 World Champions got off to an excellent start, swapping times with Dani Sordo in a big fight for third place. "We set off really quickly but the pace at the front is really quick," said Solberg. "It was important not to make any mistakes this morning on these very slippery roads."
Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia were eighth on the road and had to cope with stages that were in poor condition after the leading cars had been through them. "I'm trying to stay with the leading group," reported Ogier. "We're going to adjust the car set-up at service so that I feel a bit more comfortable with it."
During the afternoon's second loop of stages, which was identical to the first loop run in the morning, the Equipe de France FFSA-backed driver underlined his performance by hanging onto fifth place despite a puncture at the end of the day. "We had quite a tricky day because of our start position, which really didn't help us," he added. "Despite that we're in a good overall position even though we lost time in `Myherin 2' (SS6). Tomorrow, we'll try to get a bit closer to the frontrunners."
Continuing his scrap with Dani Sordo, Petter Solberg went quicker than the Spaniard during the final two stages in order to claim a provisional third place overnight, behind Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen: "It was a very good day, especially in the afternoon when we only lost a handful of seconds to the two leaders," concluded Solberg. "They're fighting for the World Championship, so they're taking their brains out of their helmets and going for some big risks! Tomorrow, we're going to push even harder than we did today and hopefully we'll be able to take advantage of a better road position as well."
Conrad Rautenbach and Daniel Barritt set off at a steady pace and gradually improved throughout the day in order to end up with a provisional eighth place overnight. "The conditions didn't favour us this morning," explained Rautenbach. "The roads were damp so they degraded quite heavily with the passage of each competitor. We didn't make any mistakes though and we were able to make up some places in the afternoon. Eighth place fulfils our objectives at this point and I hope that we can continue in a similar vein tomorrow, even though we're not expecting great weather."
Aaron Burkart and Michal Kolbach joined the Citroen Junior Team on this event through the Citroen Junior Experience programme. They ended their first day with the C4 WRC in 11th overall. "I'm just trying to learn the car and have fun driving it," said Burkart. "We're going to try and carry on like this tomorrow."
Benoit Nogier, the Citroen Junior Team manager, concluded: "It's been a very good day for us. All four of our cars have reached the finish this evening. On his first gravel rally at the wheel of the Citroen C4 WRC, Petter Solberg is just behind the two drivers fighting for the world title. Sebastien Ogier is confirming the excellent performance that he has consistently demonstrated from the midpoint of the season onwards. We're also pleased to see Conrad Rautenbach in the top eight again. He deserves this place after a solid performance following a difficult start position this morning. Aaron Burkart is driving a WRC machine for the first time. He has gained a second per kilometre over the course of the day. If everything continues like this, I'm sure that we can end up with a very good global result for us."