Schilke, WRC Correspondent
Dramatic day for Ford and Citroen as MINI holds the edge
Dani Sordo edges into the overall lead on the first day of Rallye de France in his and Carlos Del Barrio’s Mini John Cooper. If the Spaniard can hold on, history in Alsace, France could be made as the MINI team takes their first World Rally Championship victory. However, there are two days left and Petter Solberg is just one second behind Sordo. The privateer Citroen team owner/driver can also tastes his first win of the 2011 season. Third belongs to Sebastien Ogier for the Citroen factory team; he is 2.4 seconds off the pace of Sordo.
“I’m really, really happy,” said Sordo who won two stages (6 & 8) on the first leg. “We have been working so hard for this and now we’re in a good place. There are still two days [to go] but today has been really good. To be leading Citroen at home is very nice.”
For Solberg, starting in second tomorrow is just where he wanted to be, "Today has been absolutely fantastic. I am so happy about fighting up there at the top. Second tonight is perfect for me, it’s just seconds between us. I didn’t want to take any risks on the gravel part on the last stage, so backed off a bit there. The Citroën DS3 has been perfect all day and I so enjoy being able to drive fast without driving crazy. Tomorrow is an important day, and I guess most will be settled then, as Sunday is only a short day."
Rounding out the top three was Ogier, who had the lead for most of the day and was starting to stretch out a nice gap. Yet engine troubles would see his lead whittled away until both Solberg and Sordo went past him in the rankings. The Citroen team will be sure to pour over Ogier's car to insure he will continue strong tomorrow. The Frenchman seeks his first win in the Alsace region and has just a few seconds to make on the leading pair. If the car is sorted out and Ogier keeps up the pace then Sordo and Solberg may find themselves in a battle over second place.
“I’m not all that happy as I had the impression that something wasn’t working properly on the car,” lamented Ogier. “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.”
Ciitroen engine problems also caused points leader Sebastien Loeb grief today, along with a retirement. The door is wide open for the Ford factory team to close the gap in the championship standings. Ironically, Loeb's engine failure was the same stage which led to the Frenchman's seventh WRC title at his home event last year. Loeb opened the day with the first stage win before retiring from the rally.
“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 Loeb. “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 eighth world crown.”
While both of Fords top contenders went off the road, they still are ranked 5th and 6th behind the second MINI driven by Kris Meeke. Jari-Matti Latvala is over one minute behind the leader and his Ford teammate Mikko Hirvonen is seven seconds behind him. It will be a challenge for both to make up their deficit in time but a podium position still isn't out of the question for either flying Finn in their new painted Fiestas.
“I played a risk card with my tyre choice. As the tyres became hot towards the end of the stage, the back of the car started to move and in a left hand bend, it slid away. I tried to brake but the car went off onto the grass. It was soft and the car became stuck, and spectators had to push me back on the road,” said Latvala
Meanwhile teammate Hirvonen was held up from hitting a bank on the same stage, “I made a mistake a few kilometres after the start by entering a slow right corner too quickly,” he explained. “The impact knocked the front left tyre off the wheel rim and it filled with mud and grass. Afterwards the steering pulled to the left, and the vibration was so bad Jarmo’s pace notes sounded like they were coming from a lamb!”
Rallye de France day 1 results