One-two finishes for Citroen's Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Francois Duval/Sven Smeets in each of today's six stages have enabled the Xsara WRC pair to pull out a handsome lead over their closest chaser, Marcus Gronholm. Under a...
One-two finishes for Citroen's Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Francois Duval/Sven Smeets in each of today's six stages have enabled the Xsara WRC pair to pull out a handsome lead over their closest chaser, Marcus Gronholm.
Under a near-cloudless sky, bright sunshine soon saw the sequels of the previous day's heavy rain disappear, leaving the inside of only a few corners slippery with mud, notably in 'Ruwertal-Fell' (SS1 & 4). The three stages were therefore practically all-dry for the first pass and, with the exception of a few drops of rain at the beginning of the second loop, that's how it stayed all day. One of the German round's hallmarks is the difficult tyre choices it often imposes, but that hasn't been the case so far. The two Citroen crews opted for the medium compound Michelin N tyre for all six tests and were perfectly happy with their choice.
Sebastien Loeb was fastest over the first two stages, while Francois Duval claimed the third test - his first with the Xsara - which enabled the young Belgian to complete the morning's loop in front. Three further best times for Sebastien in the second loop handed the lead back to the Frenchman however during the afternoon. "It's practically been a perfect day," said the reigning World Champion. "It's been a good fight and there are two Citroens in front. I am not surprised by the times of Francois. He was my biggest challenger here last year and, if he hadn't had a clutch problem on SS4, it would have been an even closer run thing between the two of us. On the other hand, I'm pleasantly surprised by the gap we have pulled out, even over Marcus who is always quick here. I want to thank our technical team and our partner Michelin. I really have an excellent feeling with the car. We will simply adapt the set-up for tomorrow's stages which are run over a different sort of terrain."
"I have found my natural pace," enthused Francois Duval. "I'm very happy. It's been a good day, although the clutch tended to engage a little sharply and I stalled at the start of SS4, then again in a hairpin on the same stage. That probably cost me about 8 seconds. Seb and I were in front here last year, and we are again this time round. But it's not by any means over. Tomorrow's stages over the military ranges are very different. To ward off a possible come-back by our rivals, we will need to continue at the same pace, without losing sight of the fact that the main thing is to score as many points as possible for Citroen."
Guy Frequelin is understandably delighted: "Six stages; six first- and second-fastest times! I am very pleased to see Francois at his true level. After the first loop, I left it open between the two of them, although I reminded them that I need them both to finish. This evening, I will have to think about it. Sebastien is unbeaten here and is aiming for the Drivers' title, while Francois is dreaming of scoring his first win. I've also got to think about the difficult fight we are engaged in to defend our Manufacturers' title. I'll sleep on it; tomorrow will be another day!"