New world champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was the only challenger to the Ford Focus duo of Marrko Martin and Francois Duval who dominated the days action winning four of the six stages. The Frenchman was fastest on the middle stage of each loop...
New world champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was the only challenger to the Ford Focus duo of Marrko Martin and Francois Duval who dominated the days action winning four of the six stages. The Frenchman was fastest on the middle stage of each loop and leads Martin by 2.0sec. He spun and stalled his car's engine on stage three and damaged the steering after hitting a rock on the final stage. Duval twice led this 15th, and penultimate round, of the FIA World Rally Championship before breaking his car's front left suspension on the final speed test. The damage was such that he had to retire on the liaison section back to the service park.
Team-mate Carlos Sainz lies fourth, despite engine troubles on the final test, the Spaniard lying 18.9sec behind third-placed Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot). Gronholm's team-mate, Freddy Loix, retired with a broken alternator in the third stage. Petter Solberg (Subaru) spun on the same test and also struggled with a faulty intercom, which cut out intermittently on the second and third stages. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) was third this morning but a bad tyre choice, when the Frenchman chose wet weather tyres for the dry afternoon stages, cost large chunks of time and he slipped to 13th. The only other major retirement was Jan Kopecky (Skoda) who broke his car's suspension after hitting a rock on the final stage.
This evening, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena returned to Lloret de Mar as the rally leaders, after a first leg conducted at a frantic pace. As for Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti and their Xsara WRC, they are currently lying fourth.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "A good, close fight. 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."
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: ""Rather difficult. During the first two stages, I was bothered by a bit of understeering which prevented me from getting 100% out of the car. Paradoxically, it did not bother me as much in SS3, which was very slippery. And for the second loop, I had to take care of my suspension, which was too soft, as were the tyres, the roads having dried off."
As expected, the inconsistent autumnal weather made Leg one of Rally Catalunya a difficult one for most competitors. Conditions altered throughout the day, often during individual stages, and forced Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen to make some difficult compromises when selecting their tyres for the two loops of three stages. However, a consistent performance from both means they end the day in fifth and eighth places respectively.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "It's certainly been a tough day. Mechanically things have been 100 per cent and the car has felt fine but, even though our tyre choices have been good, the stage conditions change so much from one part to the next that it's difficult to get into a consistent driving rhythm. I hope tomorrow we can get some more consistent conditions."
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "It's not been so bad, I'm reasonably happy with the day as a whole. The important thing for me is to compare my driving with Petter's and after each stage it's getting better and better. Ideally I'd like some damp weather tomorrow, I think that would give me the best chance of catching those drivers in front."
BP-Ford World Rally Team won four of the six speed tests on today's opening leg of the Rally Catalunya in Spain during a thrilling battle for supremacy at the head of the leaderboard. Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot claimed three victories in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, with team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park taking the other win en route to second overall in another Focus RS.
The BP-Ford drivers quickly found the same pace with which the Focus RS dominated the Rallye de France two weeks ago. Duval twice led this 15th, and penultimate round, of the FIA World Rally Championship before breaking his car's front left suspension on the final speed test. The damage was such that he had to retire on the liaison section back to the service park.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: "Conditions were changeable. Tyre choice and car set-up was a bit of a gamble. In some areas you gained, while in others you lost time. I'm not sure there was a perfect tyre choice but I was happy with my selection. On the dry roads I couldn't match Loeb but in the wet I had the advantage.
Francios Duval / Stephane Prevot: "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. I stopped briefly and then continued to the end of the stage, losing about 90 seconds. 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."
Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm has ended the opening leg of the all-asphalt Catalunya Rally in a fighting third position, less than half a minute off the lead. His team mate Freddy Loix was not so lucky. The Belgian had an electrical problem at the end of the second stage and he finally stopped on SS3.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "It's been a good day. Conditions were very difficult in the morning, and we had to think hard about our tyre choices. My feeling with the car is not bad, although we still have a few little problems to sort out. However, our 307 has been completely reliable and we have shown that we are able to set times very close to the leaders."
Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets: "It was very disappointing," said Loix. "After we had the problem, I knew we could only keep driving for an hour or so with the power left in the battery. Sure enough, we stopped on the following stage and there was nothing more we could do."
At the end of today's first leg of the Catalunya Rally - the final WRC event of 2004 for the Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team - Toni Gardemeister is 10th overall with team mate Armin Schwarz 12th. Newly crowned Czech Champion Jan Kopecky was 16th after SS5 but on today's final stage was just one of many drivers to hit a rock, sadly ending his rally immediately.
Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "Overall this wasn't too bad a day but the weather made it difficult. We had rain in the middle of this morning that made the roads very slippery on dry-weather tyres and we were all caught out by how fast the road dried this afternoon."
Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: ""There has been good grip on today's stages but this afternoon the roads dried a lot faster than we thought and we were caught on too soft tyres which made the car move around a lot. Tonight we made the presentation to Paavo which was a special but a little bit sad moment for me after so many rallies together."
Jan Kopecky / Filip Schovanek: ""This morning was quite difficult as I have so little knowledge of these roads. I saw the marks from cars ahead of me and realised the other drivers knew much better where they could cut the corners. About 3kms from the end of the final stage there was rock hidden in the grass. I hit it and lost a wheel before the car was thrown across the road into another rock where we lost a second wheel. Hopefully I can continue tomorrow but we must see if there will be time to repair the car."
The Mitsubishi Motors WRC crew of "Dani" Solà and Xavier Amigo lead the team's assault after the opening leg of Rally Catalunya - Rally de España, but more importantly both they and team-mates Gilles and Herve Panizzi have demonstrated that the developing Lancer WRC04 is making progress and closing the gap to its rivals. Tire choice spoiled Panizzi's afternoon - after the Frenchman had climbed to third overall - but Solà overnights in seventh with "Gigi" Galli ninth in the third Lancer WRC04.
Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi: "We had the wrong information about the conditions this afternoon. Cut intermediates were totally wrong for the dry roads; we have had a very unlucky afternoon."
Dani Solà / Xavier Amigo: "We slowed up in the last stage because after about three kilometers I heard a strange noise at the back of the car and didn't want to take any risks; that's why we lost a lot of time. In service, the engineers could see there was something broken in the suspension and changed the rear components. Tomorrow my plan is to drive a bit more aggressively, but we have had a good day, lots of kilometers in the car and I feel confident for tomorrow."
Typically this time of year produces unsettled conditions with a good possibility of rain.