Day One: Citroen Sport resumes WRC business in style The long and challenging opening day of this year's Rally Finland saw crews get off to an early start, with competitive action continuing well into the evening. The ninth round of the 2008...
Day One: Citroen Sport resumes WRC business in style
The long and challenging opening day of this year's Rally Finland saw crews get off to an early start, with competitive action continuing well into the evening. The ninth round of the 2008 World Championship marked a successful return to WRC business for Citroen Sport which completed the leg with both works C4 WRCs in the overnight top-five. Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena top the provisional leaderboard, while their team- mates Dani Sordo and Marc Marti follow in fifth place.
With a total competitive distance of 131.70km on the menu divided into 11 stages in the Jyvaskyla region, the first day was always going to be much more than a simple chance for crews to find their marks again after the summer break. "We've really had to hit the ground running. I had a little trouble waking up this morning, but I don't think that showed in our stage times," joked Sebastien Loeb after the second of two visits to the first group of three stages. The defending World Champions had taken the lead on Thursday evening's super-special and were fastest on all six of today's tests as they proceeded to pull out a cushion of 9.1 seconds after SS7. "First time round this morning's loop, we were encouraged by the impeccable handling of our C4 WRC to push hard. We were frequently on the limit, but that's the only way to build up a lead here in Finland! The conditions were damper this afternoon and the going was fairly tricky because certain portions were quite cut up, while the grip had altered in other places. We had to be on our toes all the time, but that didn't stop us attacking all the way. That's the challenge of this event; you need to find the ideal compromise."
Dani Sordo and Marc Marti also got off to a strong start which underpinned the value of the work put in by the team on last month's OK-Auto-Rally. "The pace is much faster here," smiled the Spaniard, "but the chance of covering extra kilometres on this terrain which is so specific turned out to be extremely useful. It only took me a few corners to settle into a quick but safe pace. Our situation changed when one of our main rivals retired. It is important that we keep the Manufacturers' title chase in mind because this event could be good for us." Dani and Marc left the second visit to the Jyvaskyla service park in third place after SS7 with the firm intention of defending their position.
The remainder of the day's programme featured three more stages, plus a second visit to the super-special for a total competitive distance of 44.76km before returning to Jyvaskyla for the final service halt.
"We continued at the same pace and ended up increasing our lead," commented Seb this evening. "We pushed as hard as we did this morning and managed to extend our cushion to 13.9s. Tomorrow's stages are narrower and covered in gravel, and the day promises to be just as long. We didn't want to finish in second place this evening and waste all the hard work we put in to pull out tonight's gap! We'll see later whether that was the best tactic."
Dani had less knowledge of Friday's last three stages and dropped a little ground. "I didn't feel as confident as this morning," he admitted. "The stages were extremely fast at times and you needed to feel 100% at one with your car to drive flat in places. We're not in a bad situation, though. We are in a good position for tomorrow and we will try to make the most of that."
"There has been plenty to be pleased about today," observed Olivier Quesnel. "To begin with, both our cars were both extremely competitive, and that's a fitting reward for all the hard work the team has put in. Sebastien and Daniel produced an eloquent demonstration of the C4 WRC's potential by posting the fastest time on practically every stage and by ending the day in the lead. The Finnish stages are a huge challenge but Dani and Marc showed that they are continuing to make progress. Both our crews are in a good position to finish in the big points, but this rally is by no means over yet. The second leg is very long and could well spring a surprise or two."