Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen lead the Rally d'Italia Sardegna after dominating today's opening leg on the rocky roads of the Mediterranean island. The Finns built a large advantage after winning all three of...
Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen lead the Rally d'Italia Sardegna after dominating today's opening leg on the rocky roads of the Mediterranean island. The Finns built a large advantage after winning all three of this morning's speed tests in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and controlled their lead during this afternoon's repeat tests to end the day 35.4sec in front.Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie third in a similar Focus RS after a strong performance. Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) struggled this morning as the loose, sandy surface did him few favours in terms of grip as first driver to tackle the stages. But he made little impression on the repeat run over cleaner, but rougher, tracks this afternoon. Behind Hirvonen, Henning Solberg (Peugeot) survived going off the road on the second test and a front left puncture in the third to hold fourth, ahead of Dani Sordo (Citroen). The young Spaniard altered his car's settings in service and was happier with the handling this afternoon. Gigi Galli (Peugeot) spun on the opening stage but recovered well to hold sixth. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) was second early on but slipped down the order to seventh. Team-mate Petter Solberg dropped 15 seconds after spinning on the first stage but was fourth until a string of punctures brought his car to a stop in the final stage. He will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules. Harri Rovanpera (Skoda) retired after the penultimate stage with a broken driveshaft while Jan Kopecky (Skoda) went out on the opening test with a crankshaft sensor problem.
Kronos Total Citroen
At the end of a very difficult first leg, run in intensely hot conditions, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena occupy second place in the provisional classification, 35.4 seconds behind Marcus Gronholm. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti are fifth while Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio are eighth. All three Citroen Xsara crews from the Kronos Racing Team are therefore in strong points-scoring positions for both championships.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "On the first stage, Terranova, I wasn't in a particularly good rhythm. Marcus [Gronholm] set off at a very fast pace, and because of the threeminute gap between the cars [owing to the amount of dust on the stages] I didn't get his first split time until a third of the way through the stage. I tried to react, but I had already given too much time away. On the remaining two stages of that loop, I drove very quickly in order to try and reverse the trend. I was very curious to know what it would be like on the second run through the stages, on abrasive roads that had already been swept clean of loose gravel. We won two out of the three stages and got back five seconds. Tomorrow, when road conditions are equal for everybody, there are a few more things that we can try. I'm going to do everything I can to have a go at reducing the gap. It should be a really good battle, just as myself and Marcus both like it. "
Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "All in all, it's been a good day. Tomorrow I think I'll up my pace a bit, as I reckon we can do something good here. "
The beginning of the "Rally Italia Sardegna" was everything the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team and Henning Solberg could have hoped for. The Norwegian had a spectacular infight with his brother Petter (World Champion 2003), finally overtaking him on special stage five. The OMV driver lies in outstanding fourth overall place after day one. Manfred Stohl on the other hand had to deal with slight teething troubles. The 33-year-old Austrian lost a lot of time on the first three SS. In the afternoon he was able to climb up two places but was thrown back once again to twelfth place due to tyre damage.
Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "The feeling was quite all right in the morning. Unfortunately the times were not. In the afternoon we did better - until the mishap with the tyre occured on the last special stage. If the mousse doesn't work you simply lose too much time. But this rally is so tough on the material that almost every team encounters a flat at one time or another. Even the best of tyres can't prevent that."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "The Peugeot runs perfectly smooth. We are really feeling great. In the morning we had a moment of shock when we drifted off the road on SS 2. But apart from that we can drive at very high speed and it is generally a lot of fun. On Saturday we'll try our best to jump onto the podium."
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen lead the Rally d'Italia Sardegna after dominating today's opening leg on the rocky roads of the Mediterranean island. The Finns built a large advantage after winning all three of this morning's speed tests in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and controlled their lead during this afternoon's repeat tests to end the day 35.4sec in front. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie third in a similar Focus RS after a strong performance. They were a model of consistency, setting five top three times from the six special stages to return to the rally base of Olbia, on Sardinia's east coast, with a comfortable grip on the final podium place.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I was surprised to have such a large lead this morning but the car felt great and I was relaxed in the stages. We worked hard during our tests here to make improvements to the suspension, differentials and engine and it paid off. I was more confident. I still have a big fight on my hands with Loeb and I think there will be two more days like that. I don't have a big enough lead yet to be comfortable because there are too many corners remaining but it's a good feeling tonight."
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "It has been rough and rutted but I like these stages and I've not taken stupid risks. There were many loose stones this morning and the car's sump guard took a few big hits so I knew I had to be careful. "The top three is where I want to be and this is the kind of day I have wanted all year. The Focus felt great and the tyres worked really well on the rocks and ruts. Tomorrow I will stick at a sensible pace and try to hold position because anything can happen in these conditions."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford
From the highs of setting the fastest stage time in the last stage he drove in Rally Argentina, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson experienced the opposite end of the rally spectrum as he crawled through the first day of Rally d'Italia Sardegna due to suspension damage in the morning and then engine management difficulties in the afternoon. Kosti Katajamaki in the second Stobart Focus registered to score manufacturer points had a far better afternoon to Wilson and experienced a clean run through the treacherous sandy gravel stages to end up 13th in the overall standings. After a solid run in the first stage of the day the Finn had suffered failure of his fly-by-wire throttle motor and he had to alternate between using the car's throttle emergency mode with its all-or-nothing power delivery and its road mode with significantly diminished power.
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I don't know what happened on the first stage. We were less than a kilometre in and we went round a left hander and heard a bang, there must have been a rock in the road. It didn't sound like too big an impact but we thought we'd got a puncture from it. The mousse worked but the hub was damaged. We then didn't know if we'd make it to the service and the hardest part was the 70km road section. We've stopped on every stage today. In the afternoon's first stage we changed the ECU, then in the next one we had problems with the fly-by-wire linkage and we changed that to the cable mode. We made a repair to the linkage and we had a good run for 8km, and set a good split time, but then the fly-by-wire motor failed. I've never been last in a rally before, especially not by seven minutes!"
Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "It's very tough out there, but it's the same for everyone. It's very slippery as well - too slippery for me, it's very dusty and very rough. As soon as you get on the gas the car pushes wide with understeer. It's been very dusty and we've had some problems but everything is okay, I'm very happy as it's a tough rally. Tomorrow will probably be worse, but that's rallying, you have to do it. I had no mechanical problems luckily and I finished the day."
Kosti Katajamaki/Timo Alanne: "It wasn't so easy on the first stage as it was very slippery and very difficult but I set a good time, it is four months since I've been in the car so it's quite exciting at the moment. I didn't push so hard on the first stage, the plan was to push harder on the next ones but the fly by wire throttle broke so we had to use the emergency mode and road mode with no turbo, that was very hard. In the afternoon the ruts were really bad, but it was easier with the throttle working."
Chris Atkinson leads the Subaru World Rally Team challenge after the first Leg of Rally d'Italia Sardegna. The Australian drove consistently throughout the day to end Leg one in seventh place overall. Petter Solberg started well and maintained a top six position until three punctures in quick succession forced his retirement eight kilometres from the end of the final stage. He will restart tomorrow with the objective of testing for the forthcoming Acropolis Rally.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "It's been a frustrating afternoon and as you'd expect I'm disappointed about not finishing the Leg. As a team we've got a lot of work to do. For the rest of this rally we'll concentrate on testing and trying different set-ups. We need to find some improvement before Greece. That's the plan now."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's been a tough day. In terms of driving we've run at the same pace all day. Sometimes the stage times were really good, while other times they've not been so great but we did the best we could."
Red Bull-Skoda Team
The drivers for Red Bull Skoda suffered from a lot of bad luck today at the start of the seventh WRC event in Sardinia. Both Andreas Aigner and Harri Rovanpera had their share of problems and consequently lost plenty of time.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "In the morning I caught up with Matthew Wilson on both SS 1 and SS 3, I lost some time this way. Why I couldn't go faster otherwise I'm not really sure myself, even though we changed the Fabia WRC's complete setup at service. On the penultimate stage I suffered from transmission troubles on top of that, the team management decided to stop ahead of time in order to prevent more serious damage, so I can restart tomorrow thanks to SupeRally regulations."
Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "Just 2.5 kilometres into the stage I had my first tyre failure, a short while later I noticed another puncture, I just managed to get to the stage finish with it. Since there were three stages in a row and we only had one spare on board, I had to complete the 22 kilometres of SS 3 with a blown tyre. That's where I lost most of my time. In the afternoon everything was back to normal, I felt confident at the wheel and was quite happy with the times I posted, after all it's my first time on pure gravel."