Two Citroens on top! Following the second visit to the 28-kilometre AullÃ¨ne/Arbellara stage, Leg 1's fourth and final test, the Xsara WRCs of Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Francois Duval/Sven Smeets monopolise the top two places of the ...
Two Citroens on top!
Following the second visit to the 28-kilometre Aullène/Arbellara stage, Leg 1's fourth and final test, the Xsara WRCs of Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Francois Duval/Sven Smeets monopolise the top two places of the provisional 2005 Tour de Corse -- Rallye de France leaderboard.
Sebastien Loeb was fastest over all four of today's stages, while Francois Duval was second quickest on three of them. Although the type of asphalt and the nature of the stages are very different, the Citroen pair and their Michelin tyres essentially repeated the scenario of the opening leg of August's Deutschland Rally.
The torrential rain which fell on Wednesday night provided a timely reminder of the importance weather can have in the way the French round unfolds, and notably the influence it can have on the tyre choices which are made a long time ahead of stage starts. Nobody, therefore, was disappointed to learn that the early fine conditions promised to stay that way all day as bright sunshine set about ensuring the roads were completely dry.
Even so, the first stage of the day - Ampazza/Col St Eustache - took place in cool temperatures with occasional lingering damp patches which prompted Sebastien Loeb to opt for medium compound tyres which the two-times World Champion managed to perfection during the morning's loop: "The first two stages were practically all-dry and everything went well. The car is perfect and I didn't make any mistakes."
Seb then clearly hoped that the weather wouldn't take a turn for the worse and threaten his early cushion. His wish was granted and the island of Corsica remained bathed in the beautiful sunshine which has long made it an idyllic tourist destination. Running on slightly harder tyres to cope with the warmer conditions, Seb and Daniel put in a further perfect run in the afternoon: "Four stages... four fastest times. I felt totally confident in my car from the start. I've said that I want to win this event and I couldn't have dreamt of a better start. That said, I was leading after Leg 1 in 2003 too and I can distinctly remember the mistake I made the following day which put me out of contention. So I am very aware that I mustn't drop my guard. Perhaps we will have some tougher tyre choices to call tomorrow. Who knows?"
Francois Duval got off to a more difficult start than he did in Germany but profited from the afternoon's loop to ease into 2nd place, just behind his team-mate's Xsara: "I wasn't driving 100% to begin with. My suspension was too hard this morning but after going softer the car was much nicer to drive. I took it easy over the bumpy sections so as not to be caught out as I was on the Monte Carlo Rally. I am one of the drivers who improved their times the most second time round despite the fact that the surface was dirtier after the morning's run. I now intend to do everything I can to meet my objective which is to stay on the road and defend the position I hold tonight."