Despite being first out on the road, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena controlled the first day of Rally Italy in Sardinia perfectly. The seventime world champions were the best performers, and they finished with a 33-second lead over Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson. Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia in the other Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 WRC are lying fourth, 2.4s behind the third-placed driver.
The first leg of Rally Italy Sardinia with 8 stages over 131 kilometers without a return to the main service park was a real challenge. Beyond the usual questions about the starting order for the second day, the crews had to nurse their cars on stages they don’t normally have to cope with in the world championship.
Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, the overall leaders before this rally, had the doubtful privilege of being first out on the road in this leg. At the end of the first stage, their lowly eighth time augured a bad day for the Franco-Monegasque duo. But they hit back almost immediately! In SS2, they finished second and they then set two quickest times in the next two stages to take the lead in the rally at the end of the first loop. “These stages are laid out on harder ground than we’re used to in Sardinia. There’s a little gravel but some of the passages were cleaned by the cars doing reconnaissance,”was how Loeb analyzed things in the remote service park in the village of Siamanna. “Overall, it hasn’t been too bad for us. I’m going to have to keep on pushing this afternoon to open up a gap over our rivals. We don’t have any other choice!”
Despite dead-heating with his team-mate for the quickest time in SS3, Sébastien Ogier had a much lower-key start to the rally: “I started off cautiously this morning. Maybe I overdid it. That may explain the lack of feeling I have with the car. To go quicker I’ll have to take more risks and I don’t think that’s a good idea as there are so many traps in all the stages,” said the winner of the last two rallies.
Second time through the loop Loeb applied the simplest of strategies – pedal to the metal! He was again fastest in Monte Grighini Nord and Alta Marmilla (SS6 et 7), and the Citroën Total World Rally Team driver made the break! He finished the first day of the rally having increased his lead over Petter Solberg to more than thirty seconds!
“I’m a bit surprised to have been in the groove today,” smiled the leader when he returned to the service park in the port of Olibia. “The gaps have opened up but I reckon that everybody still has a chance of winning. Sweeping will have more influence tomorrow and theoretically our lead isn’t enough to stay in front. If we manage to keep up the same pace as today, we’ll give our rivals a run for their money!”
Ogier, who was second after SS7, slipped back to fourth place in the last stage of the day. He is now 55.5s behind his team-mate and is aiming for a place on the podium. “Things could have gone better in this leg, but it could have been worse when you see how many retirements there have been. We took the decision to fall back to fourth in the interest of the team as our main rivals have lost a car. Our aim is to fight for second, and we’re well placed to achieve this result. We’ll have to find a better felling to enable us to push tomorrow.”
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