Three Xsaras lead the way ! At the end of the first and longest leg of the Catalunya Rally, the Kronos team has three Citroen Xsaras occupying the top three places, crewed by SÃ©bastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, Dani Sordo/Marc Marti and Xevi...
Three Xsaras lead the way !
At the end of the first and longest leg of the Catalunya Rally, the Kronos team has three Citroen Xsaras occupying the top three places, crewed by Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, Dani Sordo/Marc Marti and Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio. Nonetheless, the feelings of the Xsara crews this evening are far from joyful. Every competitor is mindful of the accident that claimed the life of Jorg Bastuck, co-driver to Aaron Burkart who is contesting the Junior World Rally Championship this year. " You can only blame the most terrible bad luck, " commented Daniel Elena. " Who could have said that two cars would go off in quick succession at the same place ? But for everybody, this brings back some horrible memories... "
Before this drama unfolded, the rally was characterised by a duel between the two men at the top of the World Championship : Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm. Marcus had the upper hand in the first three stages, pulling out a lead of 11.1 seconds. After setting fastest time on `El Montmell 2' (SS4) to reduce the gap to just 9.3 seconds, Sébastien decided to make a few changes to the set-up of his Xsara during the second service halt.
After making these changes, I found myself back with a car as I liked it : more precise and with a better turn-in, " said Seb. "This allowed me to brake later, spending less time in each corner and getting on the power earlier. At the same time Marcus hit problems and we were able to take the lead of the rally. That's a pity, as it was a good battle between us. As is always the case with him, it was very exciting and enjoyable for us both. Having said that, I cannot complain now. There is still an extremely long way to go before the finish and I will have to keep up a good pace. I've got two young and hungry drivers breathing down my neck. Dani [Sordo] is not so far behind me and as he does not have to worry about the manufacturers' championship, he can push as hard as he likes..."
Dani Sordo's first rally with the Xsara WRC on asphalt the surface with which he is most familiar was a true test of his abilities. The reigning Junior World Champion passed leg one of his exam with flying colours, finishing in the top three five times over today's six stages. Some of his split times were faster than those of the two greats at the front - Seb and Marcus. Dani's smooth and flowing driving style delighted his friend and mentor Carlos Sainz, who kept a watchful eye on his protege's progress.
"It's absolutely fantastic, " grinned the young Spaniard. " I would not have expected something like this in my wildest dreams. The team has given me a perfect car : I only noticed a little bit of understeer on the first loop of stages, which was sorted out by some small set-up changes at service. The stages were not massively more dirty over the second run, and my gravel crew did a very good job. I'm holding all the aces at the moment ; now it's up to me to play them well... "
Xevi Pons got off to a very good start but hit a couple of problems. "I stalled twice at the start of `El Montmell' [SS2], said the Spaniard. " On the last loop of stages, I couldn't find the excellent feeling with the car that I had enjoyed right up until then. I seemed to have a lot of understeer and oversteer. We're going to look at the problem together, and I feel confident that the team will find a solution. Having said that, it's impossible to get any better than having three Xsaras on the provisional podium. We have to do all we can now to try and maintain a one-two-three... "