It couldn't be more open! Second overall tonight, SÃ©bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena perfectly negotiated the Rally Japan's first leg, a day which is usually unfavourable to the Championship leader starting first on the road and acting as a ...
It couldn't be more open!
Second overall tonight, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena perfectly negotiated the Rally Japan's first leg, a day which is usually unfavourable to the Championship leader starting first on the road and acting as a sweeper. Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti lie in a comfortable fifth place.
The competitors took a very early start this morning in Obihiro. The first car left the Kita Aikoku service park at 5.30 for a first special stage scheduled at 7.38! In the meantime, the competitors had to cover over one hundred kilometres of road section, carefully respecting the speed limits between 70 and 50 km/h depending on the places. A long route which was to be driven four times today (twice in both direction) representing not less than eight hours of journey in total...
The group of stages comprised a "mini" test of 2,8 km ending up in the "off road complex" of Rikubetsu and three traditional fast stages all going through thick forests. "These stages are very interesting to drive", Sébastien Loeb said "even if sometimes it was a bit tricky under braking..."
For Carlos Sainz, "they are different! We arrive into the corners most of the time at maximum speed. As the roads are very narrow, you cannot go sideways at all. If you do, you land in the grass on the sides hoping that there are no hidden obstacles..."
During the first loop, "Seb' the sweeper" was surprised to realise his position on the road was not penalising him too much, surely thanks to the previous days' rain. The young Frenchman even set a promising fastest time on that opening sequence of tests. "It was correct to choose soft tyres and the balance of the car was very good. I could stay in the tracks we've done when we recceed before the start and it helped."
Having selected a harder compound for the afternoon loop, Seb' confirmed he was at ease with his Xsara on this new playground and he won three stages. However he cleared the third test "Niueo", with three punctured tyres!
Thanks to the efficiency of the Michelin ATS system, he could compete normally in Rikubetsu and after the road section, in the super stage of Satsunai, located in the suburbs of Obihiro. "Good day", Seb said smiling. "We are in the pace of the fastest cars and I believe we can do well. I think tyre choice will be the key point for tomorrow"
This morning, Carlos Sainz tried a slightly different set-up from his French team-mate's. At the midday service, he reverted to the original settings without however being fully satisfied.
The Spaniard still wished to finetune his car's balance when the competitors stopped for the overnight halt. "I hope I will feel even more confident tomorrow as I am determined to catch up with Markko Märtin..."