Loeb placed his Citroën DS3 on top of the first leg standings in Germany
Sebastien Loeb showed again why he is the ace on tarmac in the World Rally Championship by taking over the lead on the third stage in today’s contest in Germany. His Citroën teammate Sebastien Ogier was just 7.4 seconds behind him in second place. Loeb won three stages while Ogier took two. Mikko Hirvonen was third best but the Ford driver was over one minute behind the leading duo of Leob and navigator Daniel Elena, who are unbeaten since 2002 in the Rally Deutschland contest.
Centered around Trier, the two Citroën Frenchmen were not the fastest on the first stage; instead it was Jari-Matti Latvala taking the win and early lead. The Finn, had the honors of being the first to set a fast time in the new WRC cars competing on tarmac. The day started dry and the Ford drivers chose the harder compound tires for the route along the Mosel river banks. In the second stage, the rains came to the valley and the vineyard lined track became difficult.
We opted for safety as we knew that there was a strong likelihood of rain
Whilst the Ford team made a judgment error in the weather outlook, Citroën did not. Both Ogier and Loeb were on a mixture of soft and hard tires which allowed them to take over the top two spots. From that point on, it was their day as they extended the overall time over the top Ford factory team who had mechanical issues as well.
“We opted for safety as we knew that there was a strong likelihood of rain,” explained Loeb when he arrived back in the service park after stage 3. “Starting on hard tyres meant that there was a lot more to lose than with our selection. Our tyre choice in SS1 surprised our rivals. It’s a solution we tested and we found that it was a good one for this type of situation. All I had to do was to remember that the car did not behave in the same fashion when turning right or left.”
With the unconventional tire choice the Citroen pair currently sits a full minute ahead of Hirvonen, who became the top Ford driver in the order after Latvala suffered a problem on stage three. The Ford team's woes were further compounded on stage four when Hirvonen slid wide and damaged his Fiesta's suspension while Latvala's engine dropped a cylinder. It was a frustrating day for both, as their rivals had a relatively trouble free day.
"I was so happy to win the first proper asphalt stage with the Fiesta RS WRC," said Latvala. "But then it rained so quickly. I was worried I would slip off the road because there was no heat in the hard tyres. We expected heavy clouds but believed that if it rained, it would only be light. Soft tyres would have been a huge gamble, but that gamble would have worked.
"This afternoon was incredibly frustrating. The problem started just 3km into the opening stage of the loop and I had to live with it from then on. My rally is over in terms of a good result. What I want to do now is try to set good times and prove that myself and the car can be competitive on this surface," added the Finn.
MINI's first appearance on tarmac turned a few heads today as the Cooper Countryman was strong enough to put Dani Sordo in fourth, with teammate Kris Meeke following in fifth. Treated purely as a development year the new team seems to already have found a competitive setup on the hardest surface.
“I am very happy as the performance from the MINI in this rally is quite good. Fourth is not so bad, and honestly I didn’t expect to be in this position after day one," remarked Sordo.
Tomorrow may not go as swimmingly for the pair as Petter Solberg will be eager to get closer to the podium. The privateer Citroen driver fell behind today after getting high-sided on a bank on the slippery second stage. Solberg is just 2.2 seconds from Meeke, with another 17.3 second to make up on Sordo. Tomorrow promises a good battle between a developing factory team and the strongest privateer in the series.
"I’m quite happy with my position after the first day," smiled Solberg. "This is the first tarmac event with the new car, so I’m about where I expected to be. I’m improving all the time and enjoying it very well, and will continue to do that tomorrow. Did lose some time with the heavy rain on SS2 and also the spin, so sixth is not bad at all. We are the fastest privateer and fighting with works-cars!"
Henning Solberg sits seventh on the timesheet but is too far behind to challenge his brother for position. The M-Sport Stobart Ford driver had a mixed day, and may have been more on par with the top cars if a brake problem hasn't given him grief.
The top eight is rounded out by Kimi Raikkonen, who suffered a heavy crash on the driver's side while tackling today's penultimate stage 5. The Finn was ok but the car had extensive damage to its body work. The ICE 1 Racing team will have a long night ahead of them to sort the car out.