Midday wrap: Loeb on top on Rally Bulgaria Sebastien Loeb has made the perfect start to Rally Bulgaria by going fastest on the opening two stages of the World Rally Championship event. The title leader topped the times on the first ...
Midday wrap: Loeb on top on Rally Bulgaria
Sebastien Loeb has made the perfect start to Rally Bulgaria by going fastest on the opening two stages of the World Rally Championship event.
The title leader topped the times on the first 31.77-kilometre Batak Lake stage and followed that up by going quickest on the Belmeken Lake run in his Citroen Total World Rally Team C4 WRC.
Like all the leading contenders, Loeb opted for the hard compound Pirelli PZero tyre after the threat of rain, which would have prompted a switch to the soft compound version, subsided. However, Loeb did report some damp patches on the Batak Lake test, particularly under tree cover.
Sebastien Ogier is second, 16 seconds down on Loeb, after a small moment when he glanced a barrier on the first stage. Dani Sordo, Loeb's Citroen team-mate, is third overall as the French manufacturer's C4 model filled the top five places.
Petter Solberg, who is competing alongside new co-driver Chris Patterson for the first time, is fourth overall in his privately-run C4 after going second quickest on stage two. Kimi Raikkonen has impressed by completing the opening loop of stages in fifth, one place ahead of leading Ford pilot Mikko Hirvonen who admitted he needed to improve his pace after failing to find a "good rhythm".
P-G Andersson adopted a cautious approach on his first appearance for the Stobart M-Sport Ford team. He is currently eighth overall behind works Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala.
Hungarian Frigyes Turan is ninth in a Peugeot 307 WRC with Matthew Wilson restricted to 10th in his Stobart Focus after a brake glitch struck on the opening run. The Briton was one of several drivers to report mud being pulled onto the road by the leading drivers taking 'cuts' through some corners. He also said he had struggled to gain confidence on his first run on asphalt since Rally Catalunya last October.
Mathieu Arzeno upstaged fellow Citroen C2 Super 1600 driver Thierry Neuville with the fastest time in the Junior World Rally Championship section on stage one. Neuville hit back on stage two but trails the young Frenchman by a handful of seconds.
Several drivers weren't quite so lucky with Todor Slovov slowed by brake problems and Karl Kruuda suffering a spin on the first stage in his Suzuki Swift. Kevin Abbring, the J-WRC title leader, said his car's hefty weight was hampering him on the uphill sections.
Following service in Dolna Banya, crews will repeat the opening two stages. With an 80 per cent chance of rain on stage four, tyre compound choice could become a major factor with drivers and engineers debating on whether to remain on the hard compound Pirelli tyre or switch to the soft version, which will provide increased grip if it rains.