Newly-crowned world champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was unstoppable. He was comfortably fastest on all four stages to open a 41.3sec lead. Team-mate FranÃ§ois Duval held fourth through the morning loop but climbed to second on the penultimate...
Newly-crowned world champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was unstoppable. He was comfortably fastest on all four stages to open a 41.3sec lead. Team-mate François Duval held fourth through the morning loop but climbed to second on the penultimate test. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) led the challenge to Loeb this morning. But the Finn fell behind both Duval and Gardemeister in the afternoon before his day ended on an even lower note when his car stopped at the finish of the last stage with transmission troubles and he retired. Team-mates Petter Solberg and Stéphane Sarrazin are fourth and fifth, their only problem coming when the Frenchman spun at the first hairpin on the opening stage. It was a hard day for Mitsubishi. Gigi Galli is their top driver in 10th, but he, Harri Rovanperä and Gilles Panizzi all suffered daylong transmission problems. Panizzi also suffered a broken rear shock absorber this morning and fading brakes this afternoon. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) was the first retirement when he stopped on the liaison section after the opening stage with a slipping clutch. He will restart tomorrow.
Following the second visit to the 28-kilometre Aullène/Arbellara stage, Leg 1's fourth and final test, the Xsara WRCs of Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and François Duval/Sven Smeets monopolise the top two places of the provisional 2005 Tour de Corse - Rallye de France leaderboard.
Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "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/Sven Smeets: "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."
The Subaru World Rally Team had an encouraging start to the 49th Tour de Corse, with Petter Solberg lying fourth overall at the end of the day just over 12secs ahead of team mate Stéphane Sarrazin, who finished Leg one of his home event in fifth. Petter had a trouble-free run and was pleased with the balance and set-up of his Subaru Impreza WRC2005, while Stéphane set some excellent split times throughout the day. The Frenchman finished in the top ten on every stage, recording the third fastest time through the final pass of the day. Chris Atkinson's encouraging start to the rally was cut short by a mechanical problem. The Australian retired from the Leg but will restart Leg two under Superally regulations.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Today has been a good start and I'm very happy. We've had no problems at all and have made the right set-up and tyre choices. I'd say that in general everything about the car has improved since the last asphalt event in Germany. It feels much, much better. Still we have more work to do, but we have a good direction now and we're posting some good times. For now, the podium is my goal and we'll be aiming to push a bit harder tomorrow."
Stephan Sarrazin/Denis Giraudet: "In general it's been a good day and things have improved steadily as we have gone along. The engineers did a good job at the midday service; they altered the set-up to better cope with the bumpy roads, and it was not such a problem in the afternoon. However, I still think there is more performance to come, both from me as a driver and the car set-up too. Tomorrow we will be looking to get more grip from the car, as well as a more comfortable driving rhythm for me."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "The first stage (SS1) was fine, no problems at all, and I was happy with my performance on my first Corsican stage. But when we stopped on the road section after the stage end control we just lost the drive completely. There was absolutely no warning, and although Glenn and I did our best, together with the engineers back in Ajaccio, we eventually ran out of time. Of course it's a real shame to finish the day like this but it's some consolation that we can get back out there again tomorrow."
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen ended today's opening leg of the Rallye de France Tour de Corse in third after an excellent performance over Corsica's winding asphalt. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car was the first of three on the top 10 leaderboard in this 14th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. BP-Ford team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tománek lie seventh in a similar Focus RS, while the privately-entered version of Spaniards Dani Solà and Xavier Amigo is one place ahead in sixth.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "I've enjoyed today and felt extra-confident with the car. I didn't test before the rally so I'm using a similar set-up to the one Markko Märtin used when he won the rally in a Focus last year and it's working well. They were difficult, tricky stages. This morning's first stage was wet in some corners and the second test had a few bends that were quite dirty, with gravel and stones on the road. I hit a stone on a corner in the first stage and the wheel felt slightly strange afterwards, but it wasn't a big problem. The grip was good when the road surface was smooth.
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "This was like my first time here because many roads have changed," said Kresta. "I wrote new pace notes while most other drivers with recent experience have just had to modify theirs. I made a few changes during the morning stages because they were not precise enough. It was hard to drive at maximum pace in those circumstances and I needed a little more confidence in myself."
After the last stage of the opening day of the Rally de France-Tour de Corse, Marcus Gronholm was forced to retire with his car's transmission seized. The Finn was unable to re-start the car on the starter motor and his rally was sadly over. The second Peugeot 307 WRC, driven by Nicolas Bernardi, was delayed by gearbox problems.
Marcus Gronhölm/Timo Rautiainen: Retired
Nicolas Bernardi/Jean Marc Fortin: "Our starting position of 17th on the road handicapped us from the start, as we encountered a very dirty road and I could not find a good feeling. The car lacked precision. We changed a few settings for the second loop of stages but we did not go the right way on this. On the last stage we had gearbox problems from the start. Tomorrow we are going to try and find a better solution by going back to our conventional gearbox."
The Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team made a solid start to the Corsica Rally with all three crews successfully completing the opening leg to the south east of Ajaccio. Alex Bengue completed the four long stages in eighth place with Armin Schwarz 13th and Jan Kopecký 15th on his Corsican debut.
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "This morning the car was good but this afternoon I lost the power steering and that is a big problem when the roads are as twisty as they are in Corsica."
Alex Bengue/Caroline Escudero: "I was a bit too cautious this morning but I didn't want to make any mistakes. We improved the set-up this afternoon but it is very difficult to find a good compromise between the soft suspension you need for the bumpy sections and the hard settings you need for the smooth roads - often all on the same stage. Overall I'm pleased with today and I am looking forward to tomorrow."
Jan Kopecký/Filip Schovánek: "It has been very difficult for me today. I spun at the first corner of the first stage and I am very aware that this is a rally where experience counts for everything. I was happy that I could be a lot quicker on the second run through the stages but I will not be taking any risks here."
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crews experienced a difficult opening leg of the Rallye de France - Tour de Corse and the trio of Lancer WRC05 crews hold 10th, 12th and 16th overnight, with "Gigi" Galli/Guido d'Amore the highest-placed.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "This morning we had to switch to the manual gearshift and it's not so easy when you are trying to shift quickly driving one-handed on fast and narrow roads. We've had similar problems this afternoon and also a big tire vibration from a broken EMI in both stages. We ended up swapping the right rear with the spare, then put that one on the front right as well as the front left! It's very difficult to feel where the problem is, but it was obviously the rear left!"
Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi: "Obviously we lost a lot of time with a broken shock absorber this morning, but then we also lost the brakes this afternoon. They were sometimes okay in SS3, but then they went completely in SS4 and every time I went to brake the pedal just went to the floor. For me, the car is generally very nervous; it's difficult to imagine it is the same car with the same set-up as during our first lap at shakedown yesterday."