Midday wrap: Loeb turns in the perfect morning Despite some pre-event nerves, Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb enjoyed a 100 per cent record through this morning's four Rally of France stages south of the event's base in Strasbourg. The overnight...
Midday wrap: Loeb turns in the perfect morning
Despite some pre-event nerves, Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb enjoyed a 100 per cent record through this morning's four Rally of France stages south of the event's base in Strasbourg.
The overnight rain had stopped to leave drying conditions along the Alsace region's most entertaining and action-packed stretches of asphalt. Loeb led from the off, quickest by 3.9 seconds on the opener.
Reaching the start of the second stage, he had a moment of nostaligia. "This is the first stage I drove in rallying," he said. "This is where I made my debut."
The road in the Firstplan stage had changed little in the last 13 years, but the Frenchman's pace down the 16.58 kilometres was considerably more rapid than it had been when he wheeled out his Peugeot 106 all those years ago.
"I forgot about that quickly," said Loeb at the end of the stage - he was fastest again, by the way. "The road was slippery and I had to concentrate!" Loeb reeled off two more fastest times on SS3 and SS4 to arrive at the mid-point remote service in Mulhouse 14.7 seconds out front. For now, everything is going to plan for the Frenchman.
And everything was certainly going to plan for Citroen, with C4 WRCs filling the first four places. Sebastien Ogier is second and already engaging in another battle with C4 privateer Petter Solberg, who was just 4.6 seconds behind after the first four.
"I am flat out," said Ogier, "but I was losing some time in some places. The first stage was quite slippery in some places, quite tricky."
Running fourth on the road, Solberg was already thinking about improving that for the second day. "We have to get a better place on the road for tomorrow," he said. "The road is dirty for us. I was getting a lot of understeer in the corners, after just three cars there is a lot of mud on the road."
Sordo's tale was a similar one, starting one place behind Solberg, the conditions were even tougher for the Spaniard in the Citroen Total World Rally Team C4. "I'm not confident," said Sordo. "I can't find the confidence because I can't find the grip. I can't read the road the way I want to."
First of the non-Citroen's was Jari-Matti Latvala, who ended his morning in the best fashion realistically possible - second quickest to Loeb. The Focus-driving Finn was just five seconds off the back of Sordo, but almost half a minute down on Loeb. Latvala admitted to a couple of small mistakes and a struggle to find the faith in his Ford. It was a similar story in the sister Focus of Hirvonen, who was a distant sixth, more than a minute down at lunchtime.
After the first loop of stages, Norwegian Eyvind Brynildsen leads the Super 2000 World Rally Championship in his Skoda, while Thierry Neuville has built close to a half-minute advantage in the J-WRC. Armindo Araujo moved to the front of the Production field after his fellow Mitsubishi driver Hayden Paddon suffered a puncture on the morning's final stage, dropping from the lead to third in P-WRC.
Much of the morning's rally ran late after an ambulance was sent into SS2 to reach a spectator who had been taken ill. Some of the delay was made up at the midday regroup but the rest of this afternoon's itinerary will run 30 minutes late.