Close combat fighting in the woods After 144 km of competitive action in the Finish forests, SÃ©bastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their CitroÃ«n WRC have emerged in 2nd position, 5.8 seconds behind Marcus GrÃ¶nholm. FranÃ§ois Duval and Sven Smeets...
Close combat fighting in the woods
After 144 km of competitive action in the Finish forests, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroën WRC have emerged in 2nd position, 5.8 seconds behind Marcus Grönholm. François Duval and Sven Smeets are 8th and in the provisional Drivers' and Manufacturers' points.
Even before the end of the Killeri super-special which served as appetizer yesterday evening, rain had begun to fall over Jyväskylä before becoming heavier overnight. This wet weather left the opening leg's stages damp and that in turn had the effect of making them faster. As a consequence, four stage records were broken and Seb, who posted two best times, claimed the new record for 'Lankamaa' (SS2) and 'Mökkiperä' (SS6/8). It was a particularly remarkable performance given that he was running first on the road which, even though this handicap was lessened by the rain, it did mean hurtling through the Finnish stages -- more often than not in 5th or 6th gear (40% of the time spent at over 150 kph -- on a virgin surface with no previous competitors' lines to serve as guide.
Keeping up such a high pace inevitably led to the odd hairy moment... "Coming out of a flat right," explained Sébastien after SS5, essentially new, "there wasn't a crest but a sudden dip in the road. It felt as though we were free-falling. We took a big jolt when the car bottomed." "It really took the wind out of me," confirmed Daniel Elena. "I must have looked like a fish gasping for air." Back at service, while the Xsara was in the hands of the mechanics, Seb and Daniel were being restored to fighting form by those of the physio!
A fastest time in SS2 briefly saw the reigning World Champion take the lead before handing top spot to Marcus Grönholm after SS3, but he continued to snap at the heels of the four-times Rally Finland winner throughout the day. The gap between the two fluctuated between a maximum of 8.8s (after SS4) and a minimum of 1.8s (after SS6) and was 5.8s at the end of the leg which ended with a second attempt at the Killeri super-special.
"It's been a superb day," beamed Seb at evening service. "There's nothing like a good fight. I have an excellent feeling with the car and I'm 100% confident. Marcus pushed very hard, but so did I. I am pleased to have succeeded in taking the fight to the fastest home grown star on this event...and I hope it will continue that way tomorrow!"
Sébastien's performance highlights the progress achieved by the Citroën team in '1000 Lakes' country. To quantify it, it will be remembered that last year Seb was more than a minute down in 7th place at the end of the first leg ...
François Duval enjoyed a trouble free day: "I used the same set-up as Sébastien and ran harder tyres for the second loop (SS5/6). I think the set-up was too soft and the tyres were too hard for a first run at a stage. I kept the same rubber for the final loop but reverted to my own set-up. I'm in the points. That's the objective and I'll keep to the same pace tomorrow..."
Driving privately-entered Team Kronos Racing-run Xsaras, Manfred Stohl and Xavier Pons are competing against a long list of local specialists. "I was over-cautions through the first loop," admitted Manfred, "but I was able to see that the car was perfect, so I upped my pace. I won't change anything on the car for tomorrow but my driving needs to be more 'Finnish'..." Xevi lost time when he picked up a puncture on an apex on SS4 and then with a rear shock absorber problem following a heavy landing, but neither incident affected the Spaniard's good humour: "This is fun!"