Latvala leads, but it's snow joke for his chasing rivals There was no time to ease the competitors in gently, as Wales Rally GB lived up to its reputation for arduous driving conditions on the very first day. Crews battled against frozen...
Latvala leads, but it's snow joke for his chasing rivals
There was no time to ease the competitors in gently, as Wales Rally GB lived up to its reputation for arduous driving conditions on the very first day.
Crews battled against frozen stages and lashing rain to emerge from the high ground with grey faces as the bad weather did its best to dampen spirits .
At 500 metres above sea level, the worst of the Welsh weather proved a little too much for the opening stage, Hafren 1, which was cancelled due to sheet ice that had formed overnight.
The organisers had no hesitation in directing crews through at slow speed to the next special stage, Sweet Lamb, which was making a welcome reappearance after several years.
However, the stage provided cold comfort as ice turned to mud, causing further problems for the cars as traction and grip became the day's biggest talking point.
After the first two stages there was a surprise leader, with Sebastien Ogier, driving a Citroen C4 previously used by Loeb to win four previous WRC events, heading the field. A lucky car? Maybe.
"I certainly didn't expect to lead," said Ogier. "My goal is to finish the rally."
But Ogier's luck soon ran out, an electrical and gearbox problem slowing him in stages six, seven and eight and leaving him in ninth place overnight.
Ogier's performance was noteworthy nevertheless, as even World Rally Champion Loeb had to admit the conditions were proving difficult.
"It's so hard to have confidence, because you just can't see where the grip is on the road," he said after ending the final stage of the day in second position, 12.9sec off the lead.
Loeb is trailing Jari-Matti Latvala by 12.9s. The Ford driver started the day cautiously before building up his pace and going on the attack.
"It's been pretty good really," said Latvala, whose only problem came when his windscreen misted up ahead of stage six. "You can never be 100% confident in these conditions, but I tried to push without taking too many risks. There is still a long way to go though."
Suzuki's Per-Gunnar Andersson holds an impressive third place, having shown pace all day. He is 22.5s off the lead.
Mikko Hirvonen (Ford) endured a disappointing first day. He was expected to battle for the win, but started the day too cautiously and then rolled on stage five, losing several minutes while spectators put his car back on the road. He is still running but is now more than five minutes off the lead.
Another leading contender to hit trouble was Chris Atkinson (Subaru Impreza). He rolled in SS7, Walters Arena, the car catching fire when it came to a rest. Neither he nor co-driver Stephane Prevot were seriously injured in the incident.
The Production World Rally Championship title is also up for grabs on Wales Rally GB.
Juho Hanninen (Mitsubishi Lancer) was points leader coming into the event but he endured a miserable day. First he was slowed by a suspected driveshaft problem, and then he got stuck in a watersplash in stage six.
In contrast, title rival Andreas Aigner (Mitsubishi Lancer) had a good day, ending it in third in the PWRC standings - a position that could win him the title, depending where his rivals finish.
Guy Wilks (Mitsubishi Lancer) leads the Production category - and could become British Rally Champion on the event. He is currently 29.4s ahead of second-placed Patrik Flodin (Subaru Impreza)
Title rival Mark Higgins (Subaru Impreza) slid off on stage three today, seriously damaging his car.
That means the battle for the British crown is likely to be between Wilks and David Higgins (Subaru Impreza), who currently lies in fifth place in the Production class and third in the British Rally Championship standings.