WRC

Loeb in first after three-way battle in Rally Catalunya

Loeb in first after three-way battle in Rally Catalunya

After clinching his first World Rally Championship title at the last WRC round in Corsica, Sebastien Loeb held nothing back to take the early lead Friday at Rally Catalunya. The Frenchman holds a slight edge over the winner of the Corsican event,...

After clinching his first World Rally Championship title at the last WRC round in Corsica, Sebastien Loeb held nothing back to take the early lead Friday at Rally Catalunya. The Frenchman holds a slight edge over the winner of the Corsican event, Markko Martin, with a margin of just two seconds.

S?bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
"A good, close fight!" the Citroen ace exclaimed. "I was driving with total freedom. For tomorrow, I would prefer it to be dry - or at least, consistent throughout the day, so that we don't end up having to gamble. But no matter what, I will defend my position as hard as I can."

Besides Loeb and Martin, the battle was also joined by the Estonian's Ford Focus teammate, Francois Duval. The young Belgian set fastest times in three of the day's six stages, starting off fastest and then regaining the lead when Loeb spun on SS3. He was just 0.6 seconds behind Loeb after SS5, only to lose it all when he hit a rock on the final stage of the day, breaking his front suspension.

"Conditions were slippery and difficult, but that was good for me," Duval explained. "I enjoy those conditions."

Fran?ois Duval and St?phane Pr?vot.
Photo by Ford Motor Company.
But the rock, and the resulting suspension failure, were not so enjoyable. "I'm not sure whether I cut a corner too much or not enough, but I hit a rock which broke the front left suspension. We tried to make repairs so that we could drive back to the service park, but there was nothing we could do and we had to retire," continued Duval.

Martin was just a touch behind Loeb and Duval most of the day, but took the win on the final stage to close the gap to Loeb down to 2.0 seconds.

"It has been a nine out of 10 day, and tomorrow I want it to be 10 out of 10," Martin recapped the day. "The car has been really good but I think the last five per cent of the package has not been working quite as well as it did in Corsica. I will sit and think tonight, and try to work out what and why that is."

Third behind the Loeb's Citroen and Martin, is the two-time WRC champion Marcus Gronholm, nearly 30 seconds adrift of the leading duo.

Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen.
Photo by Team Peugeot.
"Conditions were very difficult in the morning, and we had to think hard about our tyre choices," the Finn explained. " My feeling with the car is not bad, although we still have a few little problems to sort out. However, it has been completely reliable and we have shown that we are able to set times very close to the leaders. There is still a very long way to go, but our performance so far has been encouraging."

Spaniard Carlos Sainz was fourth in the final standing of leg one today, his Citroen less than 20 seconds behind Gronholm. The 2003 WRC champion Petter Solberg stands fifth after the first day.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team