Day 1: Citroen's blend of experience and enthusiasm The first day of the Wales Rally GB, the final round of the 2008 World Rally Championship, has put Citroen Sport in a favourable position in its bid to clinch a fourth Manufacturers' world...
Day 1: Citroen's blend of experience and enthusiasm
The first day of the Wales Rally GB, the final round of the 2008 World Rally Championship, has put Citroen Sport in a favourable position in its bid to clinch a fourth Manufacturers' world title on Sunday afternoon. The five-time World Champions* Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are second overall this evening in their C4 WRC, while their team-mates Dani Sordo and Marc Marti follow in sixth place in the second factory Citroen.
Today will also be remembered as the day that Sebastien Ogier and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia marked their debut in world class rallying with a WRC car by posting the fastest time on the opening test before leading outright for three stages.
Of the 123.68km of competitive action in the Welsh forests some 150km north of Swansea initially planned for the first leg, only 49.70km survived the organisers decision to shorten the route for safety reasons because of the icy and snow. Indeed, the tyres the crews were running on were ill-suited to the wintry conditions of mid-Wales and the three stages that made up the day's principal loop were either axed altogether (SS1/4) or shortened (SS2/5 and SS3/6). The two attempts at the Walters Arena test (SS7/8) further to the south were both run as planned, however.
After the 22.56km of action that made up the morning's loop, Sebastien and Daniel reached the remote service zone in Builth Wells in fifth position. "The conditions were really difficult," related Seb. "An off was possible even on the road sections, and running first on the road was a major handicap. We had nobody else's lines to guide us, and there was nothing to warn us of the patches of sheet ice where there was absolutely no grip whatsoever. We chose a pace which didn't entail taking any risks and I think that was the best approach given what's at stake here in the Manufacturers' championship."
Dani Sordo and Marc Marti tackled the day with the firm intention of reaching the finish to score points and help Citroen's bid to secure the title. "The going was extremely tricky this morning," he observed. "I was on my guard all the time because I wanted to come out of it in one piece. It's not much fun when you have to drive that cautiously but it was the right tactic."
The second attempt at the same group of stages saw the two Citroen Sport crews show the same sort of self- control in their C4 WRCs which means they are sitting in an excellent position with two days of the event remaining.
"Mud made the second pass even more delicate than the first," observed the recently-crowned World Champion*. "The start of SS6 was even delayed because of a hailstorm! Our hard compound tyres weren't exactly in their element in the mud and couldn't provide enough grip. We aren't allowed to 're-cut' the tread patterns either, so we couldn't get extra grip that way. All in all, though, I think we came through the day fairly well..."
"It turned out to be a good day for us," smiled Dani in Swansea this evening. "Everything has gone to plan so far, but driving this cautiously is really not what I enjoy. But the prospect of the reward that possible awaits us on Sunday made it well worth the effort..."
Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia emerged as the morning's heroes and they were understandably upbeat about their day: "Running 13th on the road meant we benefited from decent conditions," recognised the 2008 Junior World Champion*. "It was obviously nice to set the fastest time and take the lead on our very first WRC event in a WRC car, but the main thing for us this weekend is to gain as much experience as possible and, above all, make it to the finish."
"I think we've seen two things today," concluded Olivier Quesnel. "To begin with, despite the appalling conditions, Sebastien, Daniel, Dani and Marc came through it all unscathed thanks to their experience, and their good, solid, reliable drives have put us in a strong position for the title. The other highlight was the remarkable debut of Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia in the premier category. Not only did they show that they are quick in their C4 WRC, but their enthusiasm was nicely rewarded before they later dropped a little ground with a mechanical problem. All three crews face another tough day tomorrow because nothing here in Wales can ever be taken for granted."