Loeb has the early edge in Turkey

Loeb has the early edge in Turkey

The opening leg for the Rally of Turkey saw six different of the world's best rally drivers win over the first seven stages. Markko Martin, Sebastien Loeb, Harri Rovanpera, Carlos Sainz, Marcus Gronholm, and Petter Solberg. Sébastien...

The opening leg for the Rally of Turkey saw six different of the world's best rally drivers win over the first seven stages. Markko Martin, Sebastien Loeb, Harri Rovanpera, Carlos Sainz, Marcus Gronholm, and Petter Solberg.

S?bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
Loeb doubled up in the early stages and built up a cushion beteem his Citroen and the Peugeot of Gronholm and until the final stages showed no worst for wear. The Frenchman stayed ahead of the Finn by 7.5-seconds as the final stage came to a close.

"To be leading tonight is far better than what I expected", Loeb commented. "I am in a good position for tomorrow, but I'm sure it will tough as Gronholm is very close. I will have to push... "

Needless to say, all six are in the top six positions: Loeb, Gronholm, Solberg, Sainz, Francois Duval and Rovanpera. Duval is the comeback kid in what has turned out to be an interesting day of ups and downs for the World Rally Championship's round seven.

"It's been a good opening leg," expressed Gronholm. "We're on the provisional podium and with a chance to fight for the lead, which is the most important thing. In the morning I did not feel too confident, but during the afternoon I had quite a good feeling with the car and I was able to push a bit. Tomorrow I have to attack, but it's also vital not to make any mistakes."

Friday's running of the Rally of Turkey included the Thursday night stage one, 2.50km Efes Pilsen Super Special won by Martin. One would have thought that would be a good sign for the Estonian Ford Focus driver; however, that turned out not to be the case.

Ford team faltered and Loeb jumped to the lead with the best time on the 28.98km Phaselis 1 SS2. The Citroen driver bested Gronholm to hold an edge of 2.5-seconds. Choice of tire was the reason the Ford team gave for the team's dismal performance.

"Our tyres were too hard for the conditions," said a very unhappy Duval. "They were very wet and quite dangerous in places. We had many lucky escapes. I estimate we could have gone off the road on about ten different occasions."

Marin added, "We based our tyre selection on the information that we had, but we didn't get the lottery right. It's impossible to drive on the limit with the wrong tyres."

Solberg made one comment at the service area after the first two stages, "We were lucky!" The Subaru driver was referring to his narrow escape on the second stage when he had a very high-speed spin. He only lost 13-seconds to the leaders, but the spin itself did shake the WRC champion.

"It was a fourth-gear corner and, after we stopped, I was a little bit all over the place. I think we hit a tree."

Solberg closed in on second place on the first pass through the long 34.24km Silyon SS3. However, Loeb took the win for a back-to-back stage victory and kept both Gronholm and Solberg at bay.

Water Spash! The face of the rally today was changed on SS4, the second run through the Phaselis 28.98km was won by Harri Rovanpera. A plus for the Finn after experiencing differential problems in his Peugeot the first time through Phaselis on SS2. The win by 10.9-seconds propelled Rovanpera into sixth in the overall standings. Loeb still held the edge over Gronholm while other contenders had "wet" problems.

Duval finished behind Rovanpera, which brought out a smile on the face of the Belgian as he continued to make up ground. The Ford driver took the fifth spot as Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen spun, hit a rock and lost valuable time after his earlier problem at the water splash. During the service stop, the team checked the repair that the Finn made on the radiator.

"The engine almost stalled," said Hirvonen. "Then I think I'd got water in a few places as the engine started misfiring and the clutch started slipping. And with spin, I feel a little unlucky at the minute, but there's still a long way to go."

Defending WRC champion Petter Solberg was another victim of the water splash when he damaged the front air intake of the Subaru. The Norwegian was 45.8-seconds adrift of Rovanpera. Solberg ended SS4 49.7-seconds behind Loeb in third overall.

"It's hard to believe the damage that the water did," commented Solberg. "It lifted the bonnet up and crushed the air intake duct. We did repairs and will see how it goes on the next stages. It's certainly not a disaster. There's still a long way to go."

Solberg did not have the worst of it as Martin lost the hood of the Ford Focus and damaged the cooling fans. The Focus suffered overheating problems while Martin finished a full two minutes, 40.8-seconds behind the SS4 winner.

Martin reflected on what he termed his own error, "I was careful going through there this morning, perhaps too careful, so I went faster this time. But there was much more water in it. Maybe the passage of the cars this morning had dug it deeper.

"The force of the water pushed the bonnet upwards," he explained. "It broke the pin on the right hand side and the bonnet blocked the intercooler. I thought it might have broken the cooling fans so we stopped to check, but they were OK so we continued. The engine became hot because there was no airflow and it went into safe mode, so we were low on power for the rest of the stage."

Again, Mitsubishi retired early in a WRC event. Gilles Panizzi developed electrical problems. Teammate Gigi Gall took an off-road trip and lost over ten minutes.

Sainz, the defending winner of the Rally of Turkey, came across the finish line on SS5 to finally take his first stage win this season. The Citroen rallyist was a full 4.5-seconds of Peugeot's Gronholm on for the 20.39km Kemer 1. Third to sixth was all within four seconds of Gronholm making this the closest finish for the top six of any stage today.

The Frenchman's fear of being first on the road was laid aside in the early going of today's 151.83 kilometers leg one. Yet Loeb's fear came into play on SS6 when he lost the overall lead to Gronholm. The second pass through Silyon's 34.34km toppled the Citroen driver.

Gronholm easily took the stage victory and led Loeb by 6.5-seconds as the final short stage appeared on the horizon. Duval climbed back up with a second place finish on the stage; however, his Ford teammate Martin had more problems. This time, the Estonian hit another water hole at the end of the stage causing the Focus to stall.

Rovanpera placed his Peugeot third fastest followed by Loeb and then Sainz.

The final 2.50km Castrol stage may have shown the outcome of today's leg one but with two days to go in this endurance rally, anything can happen. Solberg edged Sainz by a mere 0.4-seconds. Event leader Loeb finished the day with a third on the final stage just 0.3-seconds behind his teammate.

Martin was still in the rally at day's end after his "water" problems, he finished the SS7 in fourth. His chance to garner any championship point looks to be quite dismal as he is almost 50 minutes behind Loeb.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team