Day 1: Loeb/Elena in an ideal position The opening day of the 2008 Rally Japan, which is the 14th and penultimate round of this year's World Rally Championship, ended this evening with Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena in third place with...
Day 1: Loeb/Elena in an ideal position
The opening day of the 2008 Rally Japan, which is the 14th and penultimate round of this year's World Rally Championship, ended this evening with Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena in third place with their Citroen C4 WRC. They steered clear of kamikaze tactics to complete the first leg in a position which could well enable them to secure their fifth consecutive world title on Sunday afternoon. Dani Sordo/Marc Marti were halted by a turbo problem in the second Citroen Total car.
The first leg wasn't all that long to begin with, and the cancellation of SS3 and SS7 (Isepo 1 and 2) saw the day's total competitive distance brought down to just 63.14km. A loop of three stages to the northeast of Sapporo was contested twice, with competitors rounding off the day with the weekend's first two attempts at the super-special.
Sebastien and Daniel didn't start the rally at a breakneck pace. "I took the first stage really cautiously; too cautiously perhaps," admitted the Alsace-born driver at the lunchtime break. "There was snow by the side of the road and I was worried we might come across ice, too. It was quite complicated to find the best compromise between outright speed and caution. It was easier to find a good rhythm for the following tests which were less treacherous." The four-time World Champions effectively went on to post the fastest time on SS4 to reach the first service halt in fourth place, just 2.5 seconds off the podium.
At that point, they were one place clear of their own Citroen Total team-mates Dani Sordo/Marc Marti whose mission in Sapporo was to score as many points as possible for Citroen, and the Spanish pair effectively enjoyed a trouble-free morning. "The stages were narrow and very slippery," commented Dani who ended the first loop 6.9s off a podium position. "It could have been easy to make a mistake and there was more to lose than we had to gain. That said, the short run gave us a chance to familiarise ourselves with the new terrain which is no easier than that found in the Obihiro region."
"The second loop saw the cancellation of SS8, too," reported Seb early in the evening. "I tried to stay focused but I also kept a close eye on the gaps in order to keep the pressure on our rivals. The first day is already over and that's a good thing. I hate driving defensively. I am happy with third place this evening and I am aware what that could bring us, although I'm trying not to think about the title. We've got a big day to come tomorrow and I expect the second leg stages to be very selective."
Dani Sordo's analysis of the day was understandably less positive following his early disappearance from the leaderboard. "Everything was going perfectly," related the Spaniard. "We had settled into a good pace which was quick without us taking any risks. I was pleased with our position, but then our engine dropped power on SS6 and we were forced to stop. It's hugely disappointing but we will see with the team whether we will be able to profit from the SupeRally ruling to restart on Saturday morning..."
"I've obviously got mixed feelings this evening," concluded Olivier Quesnel as a cold rain began to move in over Sapporo. "Everything has gone to plan so far for Sebastien and Daniel. They set themselves a good objective and succeeded in ending the day in third place which suits us very well. I am really disappointed for Dani and Marc, though. Up until SS6, they were having the same sort of good day as their team-mates and running in fourth place, which was what we had asked of them. We will look at the car when it gets back to service to see whether they can rejoin the rally tomorrow. As we saw today, we mustn't put the cart before the horse. We've got a long day ahead of us on Saturday, with 156.78km of stages. The entire Citroen team is extremely fired up, but also very concentrated..."