SÉBASTIEN LOEB PUSHING FOR THE PODIUM!
Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were in scintillating form on their return to the WRC in Spain, ending the opening leg fourth overall, just five tenths of a second adrift of the podium, whilst Craig Breen and Scott Martin, equally in impressive form, ended the day in eighth place after losing time particularly with a spin. Meanwhile, Khalid Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson adopted a careful, sensible approach and made it to the end of the leg in twenty-third position.
Typically decisive on the opening leg on gravel, La Fatarella – Vilalba (38.85km), formerly known as Terra Alta, promised to be even more of a challenge this year with its substantially altered route (contested in the opposite direction and new sections).
It's precisely the kind of challenge where Sébastien Loeb's talent shines through and indeed, he landed a couple of telling blows! Having started the day down in a lowly 27thposition after stalling on last night's opening super special stage in Barcelona, he had fought up to fourth place by this evening, setting the third fastest time (+2.0s) and second fastest time (+2.9s) on this very demanding stage. Clearly, his feeling – and speed – in the C3 WRC kept improving throughout this first day back racing in the car, whilst the team refined the set-up of his C3 WRC! Better still, as the action switches to tarmac tomorrow, a surface that he really loves, the nine-time world rally champion is only five tenths behind the third-placed driver and just 3.4s adrift of second.
Craig Breen also showed unquestionable pace: ahead of the stage winner on the splits (SS4) before he suffered a spin, he confirmed his good form in the afternoon with a third fastest time (+0.8s) on SS6, and was tied for second (+4.0s) with the leader on the following test. At that point, he was up to fifth place, just seven tenths behind his team-mate champion. However, for all his good form, he unfortunately ended the day down in eighth overall after a tree branch pulled off part of his rear spoiler. He nonetheless remains within striking distance of the top five.
Gradually upping his pace stage by stage, Khalid Al Qassimi ended the day in twenty-third position, pleased to note an improvement in his feeling in the car on the afternoon loop.
Following this evening's extra-long service, during which the mechanics convert their cars from gravel version to tarmac configuration in a little over an hour, the crews will begin another race tomorrow as the rally stages switch to tarmac. A competitive distance of 121.80 kilometres and seven stages await the crews, and the forecast is for some especially unpredictable weather…
WHAT THEY SAID
"After suffering a bit of understeer this morning, we made some changes to the set-up of my C3 WRC, and I felt full of confidence this afternoon and could really express myself. That meant we were able to close in on the battle for the podium, and now everything's to play for. I haven't driven on tarmac stages in the wet for six years so if we do get rain, that'll be quite a big challenge!"
"It's been a bit of an up and down day. We set several good times but we also had a fair bit of misfortune. We lost almost twenty seconds with a spin this morning, then we lost part of the spoiler this afternoon. Without those issues, we'd be a lot closer to the fight for the podium. I love tarmac and I'm determined to make the most of one of the rare opportunities that we have in the year to drive on it and try and make up some ground."
Khalid Al Qassimi
"After not being comfortable this morning, we managed to find the solution with the technical team so that I could drive with confidence in the afternoon and really enjoy myself in the car. With very little competitive experience on wet tarmac, I'm expecting tomorrow to be a massive challenge for me!"
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
- Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1:34:27.4
- Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +26.8
- Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +29.7
- Loeb / Elena (Citroën C3 WRC) +30.2
- Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +37.6
- Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +39.1
- Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +39.4
- Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +44.7
- Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +59.7
- Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:07.4
23. Al Qassimi / Patterson (Citroën C3 WRC) +9:26.7