Sebastien Loeb leads the Rally de Espana after the opening leg, having resisted an afternoon charge from Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier.
With Loeb running first on the road on predominantly gravel stages, many had expected him to struggle on the opening day. However, he led from the beginning, holding a lead of 11.9 seconds over Ogier at midday service. Ogier took second from Jari-Matti Latvala on SS3, the Finn holding third at the end of the morning ahead of Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen.
Loeb found the afternoon stages more slippery, allowing Ogier to close to within 3.8 seconds. Loeb was pleased to be leading the way at the end of the day. “Overall, it's been very positive today as we thought we'd lose a lot of time on the gravel,” he said. “The gaps closed up during the afternoon, but we managed to hang on to the lead. We can tackle the second leg in a relaxed frame of mind. On asphalt the road conditions are very similar for the first three or four, but it's better to be first. Despite the fact that there's not a whole lot at stake in this rally, I'm determined to fight for victory. It's a lot easier to drive when you don't have to keep saying to yourself that the slightest mistake could have serious consequences for the championship!”
Ogier is concerned about trying to keep up with his compatriot on tomorrow's mainly asphalt stages. “We're going to try to stick with Seb on asphalt,” he said. “The objective is just to stay in touch. We've refined our notes well during the recce and I hope that this is going to pay off for us tomorrow.”
Latvala ended the day 16.1 seconds behind leader Loeb. He broke a wheel on the final stage of the day, causing him to back off and lose time. “On the final stage I hit a big rock on a gravel section with the right front wheel, and the noise from the front of the car made me think I had punctured the tyre,” he explained. “I eased off but when the surface switched to gravel the noise stopped so I speeded up again. I’m annoyed because it was just a bent wheel and I lost time that I could have avoided. I wanted to be further up the leaderboard but I had a good asphalt test before the rally, so I’m feeling confident about tomorrow on that surface,” he added.
Solberg is just 2.5s behind Latvala. The Norwegian lost 20 seconds on the opening stage, but won both SS2 and SS5. He said: “It's so frustrating. As a privateer I'd say it's impossible to win against the factory teams, so you can't afford to throw away any opportunities. But we're in the fight, and tomorrow is another day. Apart from the first stage, I think we've driven really well.”
Hirvonen ended a quiet day in fifth, while Dani Sordo endured a disappointing opening leg on his home rally. Hirvonen said: “My driving wasn’t as clean as I would have liked and I over-heated the brakes on the long stage this afternoon. It’s the first time I’ve done that in four years. I know tomorrow’s stages well. I have driven them since 2005, so I hope I can put that experience to good use.”
A despondent Sordo commented: “I really can't say what didn't work today. In any case it didn't turn out as I'd dreamed it would. I didn't feel at home in the C4 WRC, which kept breaking away at the rear. The mechanics are going to change just about everything this evening. We'll see what happens tomorrow. I hope I'll be able to catch Mikko Hirvonen.”
Matthew Wilson is winning the battle of the satellite Ford drivers for Stobart in seventh, ahead of Munchi's Federico Villagra and Monster's Ken Block. Henning Solberg lies tenth in his S2000 Fiesta.
In the JWRC, local star Yeray Lemes leads the way. Title rivals Hans Weijs and Aaron Burkart lie second and third in class. If positions remain as they are, Burkart will take the junior title.