Petter Solberg (Subaru) made a superb start to open a 31 second lead over the opening three stages, two of which he won despite an overheating engine. His closest challenger was Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot), who felt his car was too big for the...
Petter Solberg (Subaru) made a superb start to open a 31 second lead over the opening three stages, two of which he won despite an overheating engine. His closest challenger was Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot), who felt his car was too big for the narrow tracks. Although the Finn won two of the afternoon tests to reduce the deficit, Solberg leads by 30.3sec. Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) suffered initially by virtue of being first on the road amid slippery loose gravel. He dropped more than 30 seconds on the first test but recovered well to climb to third, just 4.5sec behind Gronholm. Carlos Sainz (Citroen) swiped a tree in the second stage but the Spaniard was otherwise untroubled en route to fourth. Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) was third initially, but handling problems and going off the road and stalling his engine on the third stage cost time. Brake difficulties in the afternoon prevented him from regaining lost ground. Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) retired on the liaison section back to service after the third stage with a hydraulic problem in the gear change system while Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) crashed out midway through the opening test.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti put in a remarkable effort during the first leg of the Sardinian rally. Returning to Porto Cervo parc ferme, the two Xsara WRCs are lying in third and fourth positions, and are ideally placed for the rest of the rally.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "The road position naturally penalised me today, but except for SS1, where Petter Solberg set an astonishing time, it was a good day, with a good fight with Marcus Gronholm. I will continue at my chosen pace tomorrow."
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: "The special stages are really narrow and slippery. You have to be extremely alert at all times to avoid making mistakes. I did the best I could in this area, and I still made two mistakes. One in the first corner of the first special stage, the other when I hit the left rear wing in the second test. I had a few other tricky moments, but the second loop went well. We tried to find a good compromise in terms of the suspensions so that we are at ease in the rough sections, but also good in the fast ones. We fought hard all day, and we will do likewise tomorrow."
After taking the lead of the all-new WRC Rally Italia Sardinia on stage one, Subaru's Petter Solberg held his advantage all day to end the Leg more than thirty seconds ahead of second placed Markko Martin.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "Not bad actually, it's working very well. I pushed quite hard earlier on, perhaps a bit too hard in places, but we made a good tyre choice this morning, and the car has a lot of traction when it's slippery. I must say I'm enjoying the stages more than I thought I would, you have to drive very precisely and use the throttle a lot to keep the car in the correct line, it reminded me a bit of my rallycross days in fact. I'm pleased with the position so far, but on this rally 30 seconds is really nothing at all, tomorrow is difficult, and Sunday even more difficult, so of course I'll keep pushing to try and increase the gap."
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "It's really disappointing, but I tried my best. The event started quite well and the second and third stages weren't too bad, although I had a small overheating problem. But, at the end of the third stage (SS3), I lost pressure from the gear change system when there was an oil leak. The car came out of gear so I got out my tools, got under the car and managed to engage second gear manually. I started driving again, but it kept jumping back out of gear. I repeated this process several times, but in the end I just ran out of time. It's disappointing to retire, but least I still drove all of today's stages once. I'm glad I'm able to restart tomorrow and get more experience."
BP-Ford World Rally Team ended a demanding opening day of the Rally Italia Sardinia with Markko Martin and Michael Park and team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot both solidly placed on the leaderboard. Martin and Park's Ford Focus RS World Rally Car finished the longest leg of this three-day gravel event in fifth with their Belgian colleagues seventh in a similar car.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: "The stages are technical and not so enjoyable to drive. The third and sixth stages were so twisty that it made the roads in Cyprus look like a motorway! I'm not happy with my position. I don't know where we've lost time, apart from the visibility difficulties, but I need to make some changes for tomorrow"
Francios Duval / Stephane Prevot: My tyres were too soft this afternoon. It was a bad choice and I knew after the first stage of the loop that we would struggle on the other two tests. My suspension didn't feel so good either but we didn't test here before the rally so we've been trying things out. Tomorrow we'll try to make better tyre choices and make some changes to the suspension set-up so we can push harder.
Peugeot drivers Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera have finished the opening leg of the Rally d'Italia-Sardinia in second and sixth places respectively, and are well-poised to move further up the leaderboard tomorrow.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "It's not been such a bad day. We've had no serious problems with the car, and in the afternoon the feeling was quite good. These are not my favourite type of stages - they are too slow and twisty - but I was finally able to find a good rhythm and get the best performance out of my 307 WRC. The pace at the front is very quick, so I will have to continue to push hard tomorrow. But I am quite optimistic about my prospects."
Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietilainen: "This has been a tough opening day, and very different to the Costa Smeralda Rally in Sardinia which I won last year. It's sometimes quite difficult to find a good pace on these types of roads, and there are rocks everywhere so it's important to be careful all the time. But I think we had a good balance between speed and safety today, so we will try to do the same again or maybe go a little bit quicker tomorrow."
After the first leg of the Rally of Italy, taking place for the first time in Sardinia instead of Sanremo, Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team driver Armin Schwarz is 11th overall. Toni Gardemeister was forced to retire from the rally 15kms into SS1, damaging the Fabia's suspension too much for him to continue. Just before that point, Toni had passed one of the split timing positions third fastest of the WRC crews.
Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "The stages are rougher than in testing at the beginning of September. Some are like the old Rally of Portugal. I have a really bad fever and by the end of the long stages I have absolutely no strength left at all."
Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: "It was a slow right hand corner through a narrow gate so I had to follow just one line. As I turned into the corner there was a rock on the inside and it hit the inner wheel rim, snapping the wheel outwards and breaking the wishbone kingpin. It's a problem that probably every driver in every team has had at some point and always with the same result."