Leg 1: Loeb and Citroen, masters in the art of 'roadsweeping' The opening day of the 2007 Rally d'Italia Sardegna ended with Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen C4 WRC on top of the overnight leaderboard after spending the day ...
Leg 1: Loeb and Citroen, masters in the art of 'roadsweeping'
The opening day of the 2007 Rally d'Italia Sardegna ended with Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen C4 WRC on top of the overnight leaderboard after spending the day sweeping a clean line through the loose top-coating for those running further down the order. Fellow C4 WRC runners Dani Sordo and Marc Marti completed the day in 5th place. The first day of the 2007 World Rally Championship's sixth round was based on a classic format of three stages to the south of Olbia to be contested twice each. Like the more familiar sections, the new portions were narrow, extremely sandy and lined by rocks and boulders waiting to punish anyone who dared stray off the ideal line.
Guy Frequelin was more cautious than usual as the serious business got underway this morning: "It promises to an extremely tough weekend and it's also the C4's first outing on this type of terrain. The stages are very bumpy in places, with frequent blind corners and lots of big rocks by the side of the road. And as if that didn't make things difficult enough, the surface is littered with a deep layer of loose gravel that promises to be a big handicap for Sebastien who is running first on the road."
The tension mounted in the Citroen camp as the team waited for the first results of the morning's loop which had proved so costly in time terms for those running first on the road in 2004 and 2006. Yet despite his role as 'chief roadsweeper', the first three stages were finally much less negative for Sebastien than expected: "After getting a feel for the amount of grip available on SS1, I managed to limit the damage, even though I made some small mistakes," explained Seb. "The profile of the next stage was different, however, and I was able to post the fastest time. On SS3, though, I was once again forced to take the lack of grip onboard while at the same time taking care not to make any mistakes. In the end, my deficit was just 10.4s and I have rarely been in such a favourable position after the opening loop. That's a positive pointer for the rest of the weekend..."
Meanwhile, Dani reproached himself for failing to find the ideal pace for SS1 and, after that, for being excessively cautious. Even so, he didn't lose too much ground compared with the drivers ahead of him, which meant he had every chance of improving his position in the afternoon. "I had a little trouble finding my marks this morning. I was also scared of making a mistake and I no doubt eased off too much. We will make a few changes to the set-up of my C4 WRC for the afternoon and I think things should go better."
The second loop was pretty much a carbon copy of the morning for Seb: "We still had more roadsweeping work on SS4, but the following stage was once again more favourable to us. After that, Marcus Gronholm's problems helped us move into first place. It's great to be leading going into tomorrow's stages. Our cushion of 22.4s isn't all that big and the fight will continue, that's for sure, but I know I will be able to count on the competitiveness of my C4 and my BFGoodrich tyres."
The second loop was just as positive for Dani whose confidence was boosted by the changes made to the set-up of his C4. Indeed, the Spaniard went on to post two quick times (4th quickest on SS5 and 3r d fastest on SS6) which was extremely encouraging for the youngster who is still learning.
The combination of Sebastien and Daniel's overnight lead and the times of Dani and Marc left Guy Frequelin feeling positive at the end of the day: "Despite his running order, Seb managed to cope with the significant handicap of having to sweep the stages. He leads this evening, but nothing is by any means over yet. Dani also responded well and he seems to have found a good pace this afternoon. But he can't rest on his laurels either. The next two legs promise to be extremely nerve-wracking."