Ogier and Ingrassia battling for victory
The first leg of Rally France-Alsace was marked by the retirement of Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (mechanical problem), who will not score any points in the eleventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, who were in front for most of the day, are currently lying third, less than three seconds behind the leader. Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson in second place are also among the potential victory contenders.
The crews in Rally France-Alsace, who received a huge ovation from the public at the start ceremony in the town centre on Thursday evening, left Strasbourg today before dawn to go to the start of the first stage. The leg consisted of four stages to be covered twice with a return to the service park at midday.
Sébastien Loeb was the first to go for it and in the Klevener vines (SS1), he set the quickest time and took the lead in the rally. His team-mate, Sébastien Ogier, fought back immediately in Ungersberg and closed the gap to Loeb to 1/10s! The rally was turned on its head in Pays d’Ormont, the stage that had helped Loeb to consolidate his victory in 2010. This year, however, the seven-time world champion saw his hopes go up in smoke. At the 27th kilometer mark, a warning light came on showing an oil pressure fall in the engine. After stopping to check the situation, the current leader of the world championship had to retire with engine failure.
“There’s never a right time for something like this to hit us, but it’s the last rally in which I would have wanted it to happen,” said the Citroën Total World Rally Team driver. “I didn’t feel it coming. There’s not much to be said. It really is a pity as I felt pretty good. The car was pleasant to drive and I liked the stages. Even if my rivals in the world championship still have a long way to go, for me coming away empty handed doesn’t help my chances in the drivers’ title chase. I’m going to have to fight hard in the last two rallies of the season if I want to win my eight world crown.”
When the crews came back to the Zénith in Strasbourg for the midday service halt, Sébastien Ogier was in the lead with 5 seconds in hand over Petter Solberg. “Seb’s retirement isn’t good news for the team. Now there’s a bit more pressure on our shoulders. We’ll have to score a big haul of points in the context of the Manufacturers’ World Championship. Things went off pretty well this morning even if I’m still not completely flat out.”
Dani Sordo, Petter Solberg and Sébastien Ogier went at it hammer and tongs in the afternoon loop finishing in that order. “I’m not all that happy as I had the impression that something wasn’t working properly on the car,” said the Citroën driver after the finish of the leg. “The team checked it during the service halt and everything’s normal. The gaps are still very small and we’re only three seconds behind Dani. It’s not over yet by a long chalk and I’ll have to push really hard tomorrow to get back in front.”