Loeb and Elena in the lead on gravel
The Catalonian gravel added some spice to the first day of the Spanish round of the World Rally Championship! Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena opened the road on the six stages which made up the leg, and they have put themselves in a strong position by taking the lead in the overall classification. Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia were delayed by a puncture, and are currently lying fourth in the second Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 WRC.
Rally Spain, the only mixed event of the season, began with a day on gravel. The three stages to be covered twice were laid out in the mountains to the west of Tarragon and represented 40% of the total timed distance of the rally.
Sébastien Loeb, who was a bit apprehensive about the sweeping he had to do on the first day, found an unexpected ally in the dust, which played a decisive role right from the start of the first stage. The seven-time world champion set the fastest time in Peselis (SS1), and went into the rally lead while Sébastien Ogier lost 18 seconds almost straight away. “In the first stage we couldn’t see anything because of the dust thrown up by the cars that started ahead of us,” explained Ogier. “The further we drove the more the sunrise, which was straight in front of us, made things difficult. Some clouds of dust were so thick that I had to brake on the straights on several occasions. It was impossible to know where we were.”
At the midday break, Loeb was happy to be in the lead despite being first out on the road. Ogier in third place was hoping to take advantage of the second loop to close the gap. Unfortunately, a puncture in SS5 cost him 1m 40s.
Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena found that sweeping was more of a handicap than in the morning and they dropped a few seconds here and there in the stages. They lost their lead at the end of SS4, but were back in front by the end of the day. Latvala was in first place till he spun in SS6 and the seven-time world champions arrived back in the Salou service park with a 30-second lead. “We’re in an ideal position,” said Loeb. “Our aim was not to lose too much time in relation to our rivals. Finishing the day twenty seconds behind Latvala would have suited me. And in the end, we’ve got a lead of thirty seconds, so it’s perfect! I had to push very hard all day. Tomorrow, being first out on the road will no longer be a handicap and we can choose the rhythm that we want to impose on the rally.”
The first day’s racing ended with a 75-minute service halt during which the Citroën Total World Rally Team mechanics transformed the DS3 WRCs into tarmac setup.
“With Sébastien Loeb first and Sébastien Ogier fifth, we’re well placed to clinch Citroën’s seventh world title this weekend. Loeb drove a perfect day in the context of the drivers’ title. Despite his puncture, Ogier is still in the running for a place on the podium. But we have to be on our guard as a whole new rally starts tomorrow on tarmac,” summed up Olivier Quesnel, the Citroën Racing Team Principal. On Saturday’s programme are six stages, a total of 144 timed kilometers. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will be the first to leave the service park at 8h45.