A little bit of patience... At the end of the long opening day of the 2005 Rally Japan, which lasted practically fourteen hours, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC this evening figure in 2nd position, while Francois Duval and Sven...
A little bit of patience...
At the end of the long opening day of the 2005 Rally Japan, which lasted practically fourteen hours, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC this evening figure in 2nd position, while Francois Duval and Sven Smeets are in 7th place.
Today's leg accounted for practically half (46%) of the event's total competitive distance despite its uncustomary format which featured three stages from a total of nine that were less than 3km in length plus, in stark contrast, a marathon test exceeding 50km that the organisers obtained by running 2004's Kunneywa and Niueo stages back to back.
The principle of scheduling nearly half of the event's total competitive distance on the opening day didn't exactly play into the hands of the crew running first on the road, especially when the term 'earth moving' rather than 'road sweeping' was more applicable in places on SS1 and 4 (Pawse Kamuy and Sipirkakim) where the top-coating was made up of very loose stones that were too big to describe as gravel. "I effectively dropped time in the first loop," says Sebastien who was a modest 12th fastest in the particularly bad opening test.
"Happily, the longest stage was in a much better state. You could drive normally and I really pushed hard in it second time through." After figuring in 12th position following SS1, then 8th following SS2 and 4th after SS4, the defending World Champion eventually moved into 2nd spot after posting the best time on his second visit to the long stage. "It was difficult not only because it was so long but also because it was fast and very narrow."
"I am reasonably pleased with my day on the whole," continued Seb. "I pushed hard, but without taking many risks and, so far, everything is running to the plan which is to finish on the podium on Sunday afternoon. I think I will keep to the same pace tomorrow, but we will still need to be quick because we still have a fight on our hands with Petter [Solberg] and Marcus [Gronholm]..."
While Sebastien felt comfortable on the long stage, Francois Duval hit a little trouble on it both times through: "I picked up three punctures this morning; the two front tyres and the rear right. Running on the ATS mousse, I had less grip and found it more difficult to turn it to corners. I broke my windscreen myself with stones thrown up by my front bumper, and I had trouble seeing out of the right-hand side. Second time through, I was running on a hard compound tyre and, if I could choose again, I would go for a medium compound. It was also starting to get a bit dark in the trees so I just concentrated on keeping it clean before taking things even more cautiously in the penultimate test [Sipirkakim 2] which was shrouded in fog. Tomorrow, my main objective will be to stay on the road. I haven't much experience with the Xsara in mud, so I hope the weather will stay dry as long as possible..."