Sebastien Loeb showed us why he’s the master of asphalt by taking a full house of stage wins today – and having a lead of just under half a minute over Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo. However the Junior drivers did not have such a great day, with Sebastien Ogier down in 6th after missing a junction, and Kimi Raikkonen retiring after crashing during the final stage of the day.
The opening stage was the status quo for a tarmac event – Citroen trounced Ford. They locked out the top 5 positions, Loeb-Sordo-Ogier-Solberg-Raikkonen all ahead of the first works Ford of Mikko Hirvonen in 6th.
“I can’t be too proud of that, hopefully we can improve on the next one,” said Hirvonen.
He did not. He fell much further behind on the following stage, while Ogier moved up the leaderboard to steal 2nd place from Sordo. However his hard work was undone on the following stage – going the wrong way at a junction and dropping over a minute getting back in the right direction. The Fords made some inroads into Raikkonen, but were still losing plenty of time to the other trio of Citroens.
Loeb wrapped up the day in style, finishing off a clean sweep of stage victories – while Raikkonen went off the road into retirement for the day.
“Everything went off like a dream for us,” said Loeb. “The stages were a bit dirty first time through, but not too bad. We did just enough in the very tricky sections and we didn't make any mistakes. The car was perfect, and we've managed to eke out a small gap over Dani. For the moment the scenario is ideal, but I'm still a bit cautious.”
However across at Ford there was a much more dejected mood – months of asphalt preperation had seemingly been in vain, the Citroens absolutely dominating the opening day of the rally.
“I think we’ll be struggling to do anything on the event, to be honest,” said team principal Malcolm Wilson. “It’s not where we want to be, that’s for sure. We’ve done a lot of work and we felt that we’d made some progress, but we've come here and the reality is we’re not where we want to be. It’s not what we were expecting. We always knew it was going to be difficult to beat Sebastien but we had hoped to be able to put in the odd good competitive time and be challenging for the podium. But at the minute it’s not looking like that.”
Citroen were dominant in the JWRC too – but the battle for victory was much closer between the C2 S1600 drivers.
Mathieu Arzeno leads Peugeot IRC hotshot Thierry Neuville are seperated by a mere 1.8 seconds after the opening day, and Hans Weijs Jr. rounded out the JWRC podium despite complaining of brake problems for most of the day.
“It's the first time that I have led a rally in a Super 1600 car so it is not too bad but tomorrow I know I will have to push a lot harder because the gap to Thierry is not so much,” said Arenzo.
It was something of a reliability race on the opening day – 4th placed Yeray Lemes was hindered by an engine problem with his Renault Clio S1600, and local entrant Todor Slavov was 5th despite suffering similar problems to Weijs Jr.
With Aaron Burkart not present this weekend, Kevin Abbring had hoped to capitalise by taking a full 10 points over his championship rival – but his rally has not gone to plan, languishing down in 6th and complaining of major set up issues with his Clio R3.
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