Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) enjoyed the best of the conditions in the wet this morning and opened a 20sec lead by winning the first two tests. However, Petter Solberg (Subaru) took up the challenge, moving up the order from...
Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) enjoyed the best of the conditions in the wet this morning and opened a 20sec lead by winning the first two tests. However, Petter Solberg (Subaru) took up the challenge, moving up the order from fourth, despite engine overheating problems. He ended the day 8.4sec behind Loeb, having set fastest time on each of the last three stages. Grönholm found conditions slippery this morning and revised his car's differential settings to improve the traction out of corners. He is 7.5sec behind Solberg, despite damaging his car when hitting a gatepost on the final test. Fifth-placed Carlos Sainz (Citroen) could not match the pace of the leading quartet and was unhappy with his car's handling all day. Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) also felt uncomfortable with his car this morning and lost 2min 30sec on the final stage when a broken gearbox left him with only third gear. However, he fared better than team-mate Daniel Carlsson, who retired after going off during the first pass through Rheola. Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) lost time this morning when his overheating engine switched to safe mode after mud and leaves blocked the radiator, leaving him down on power. He also spun on the final stage. Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) was 11th after spinning into a ditch on stage three and later complaining of handling problems, but team-mate Armin Schwarz rolled into retirement from 10th place on the final stage.
The first Leg, the longest of the event, comprised 183.31 competitive kilometres and seven stages. Following last night's Super Special, crews contested two loops of two stages north west of the service park at Felindre. The day concluded with two passes through the longest stage of the event, Rheola
Conditions were clear for Thursday's Super Special, but rainy and misty for today's opening tests. Skies remained overcast for most of the day and there were showers on the final stage. Temperatures started at 14°C, rising to 16°C by the afternoon. Stages were mostly damp, muddy gravel
The majority of the second leg is based north of Swansea around the Epynt military land. Drivers tackle two identical loops of three stages there, covering more than 91km in total. The only opportunity for service is a 10-minute tyre and fuel zone during which only two mechanics and the drivers can work on the rally cars. Competitors head back south for a test at Margam before a repeat of the super special stage in Cardiff which opened the rally last night. After leaving Swansea at 07.15, drivers face 120.72km of competition before returning to the city for the final overnight halt at 19.59.
After a challenging and demanding first leg, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC are leading Wales Rally GB tonight, while Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti lie in fifth.
Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: We had a clean run and our tyre choice was good (soft compound). For once in the season, starting first on the road hasn't penalised me. I must say that I like these stages but I'm very careful with the changes of grip. We can push more on the sections with hard ground, but we are cautious in the slippery places.
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: On this kind of terrain, it's difficult to find the right rhythm - it needs to be fast but controlled. Conditions were extremely tricky in the last two stages with some fog becoming thicker and thicker in Rheola 2. In some places, I had to brake before seeing the corner. My plan was to drive as I felt on the first day, and look at the results. Leading tonight after such a day gives me the choice of tactics, and I like that.
Petter Solberg demonstrated his winning potential aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 today to take three stage wins and end Leg one in second position overall. Lying just 8.4 seconds off Sebastien Loeb's lead, the reigning World Champion is well poised ahead to Legs two and three. Completing his first-ever full day of Wales Rally GB, his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen ended the day in overnight sixth. Overcoming a small engine problem early in the day, the young Finn gained in confidence and demonstrated his promising talent behind the wheel of his Impreza.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: I'm really enjoying myself out on the stages now. I had a bit of a difficult start today with a damper adjustment problem, but once that was sorted the rally just got better and better. I love the stages here in Wales, and I've really enjoyed driving on them today, it's an incredible feeling when you get them just right. Now there's a good battle and this sort of competition is good for the motivation I can tell you. Sebastien and Marcus are both driving very well and I reckon we'll be fighting hard until Sunday - I really hope so.
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: Well, it's the first time I've made it to the end of Leg one in Wales, so for that reason alone I have to be happy! Sixth place at the end of Leg one is okay, but without the problems I had earlier in the day I know I could have been better, but they seem to have been sorted out now and I can concentrate on finding the rhythm for these roads.
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park ended today's opening leg of the Rally GB in fourth after a day of treacherously muddy conditions in the forests of south Wales. Twice they escaped unscathed after their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car slid into ditches and they are just 35 seconds behind overnight leader Sebastien Loeb. Team-mates François Duval and Stéphane Prévot led this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship after last night's spectacular opening speed test in the dockland area of the capital city of Cardiff. They avoided major problems in the mud but a brake problem on the final special stage cost 90 seconds and they lie seventh.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: "About 1km from the end, we came over a crest and landed in a ditch on the left side of the road," said the 28-year-old Estonian driver. "The car bounced across the track into a ditch on the right, and back again into the same ditch on the left. It finally ended up back on the road and we carried on. I closed my eyes twice - that was how close we were to a big accident! The car picked up so much foliage from the ditches that I couldn't see through the windscreen initially and when it cleared the screen was broken."
Francios Duval / Philippe Droeven: "Everything was going OK but after 16km the brake pedal went to the floor and for the rest of the stage I had just the throttle and the handbrake to work with. Apart from that it has been a good day. My pace notes have worked well. We made a few changes but nothing too much," added Duval.
Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm has ended the first leg of the Rally Great Britain in a strong third place, and is well-placed to challenge for outright victory over the remaining two days. His team mate Harri Rovanpera has finished leg one in a points-scoring eighth.
Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: "Everything's gone very well so far. It was so slippery in the morning, but we made the perfect tyre choice and tried not to take any risks. As the stages dried out we could go faster, but I was not so happy with the handling at the rear of the car during the first run through the long stage in the afternoon. We made some small changes at service, and it felt a lot better on the second run through Rheola. The most important thing is that the car has been reliable and we are close to the front. We'll be attacking again tomorrow."
Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietiläinen : "It wasn't a perfect start but now we are finding a good feeling," said Harri. "I was surprised at just how slippery it was with the rain in the morning. As the day went on we were able to go better and better. This is always an incredibly tough rally and anything can still happen.
Daniel Carlsson, making his debut in the 307 WRC, endured some tough times over the opening leg. He was held back in the morning stages when rubber came off his tyres, but he slid into retirement on Rheola 1 on a left-hand corner. The young Sweden hopes to re-start tomorrow under the trial of the new Super Rally rules. He said: "We were just a little too fast on a long downhill section, so we slid wide on a left hand corner and dropped the back of the car into a ditch. We got stuck and the spectators tried to push us out, but there weren't quite enough of them and we burnt out the clutch. I'm really disappointed: it's been a frustrating day."
After the first leg of Rally GB, Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jani Paasonen were in 11th and 14th places but Armin Schwarz retired on tonight's final stage. In the tough conditions the Fabias hit 150kph on some sections and both Armin and Toni set top 10 times.
Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "It was the last place I expected to roll. We had turned into a junction in third gear and we ran over a flat rock. We must have moved it and then the rear wheels hit. The back end went into the air and we rolled twice."
Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: "I had some strange handling problems this morning but we changed the set-up at service and now it is maximum attack! There was a big pool of water on the inside of a corner on SS3. I hit it and spun the car, stalling the engine at the same time."
Jani Paasonen / Jani Vainikka: "Everywhere is very slippery but some places are extra slippery and then it is like driving on ice. Compared to here, Greece and Cyprus are easy! We should start nearer the front tomorrow so the roads will be in better condition and we can hopefully gain some places."
In the past, unpredictable weather has made the event extremely hazardous. However, a two-week spell of fine weather in Britain has left the gravel forest roads in the mountains of south Wales in good condition. If it remains dry, as expected, drivers could find that this 12th round of the championship has changed from one of the trickiest in the 16-round series to one of the fastest. Some rain is possible.