Not one, but two Citroens!
The Citroens of Sebastien Loeb
/Daniel Elena and Francois Duval/Sven Smeets have provided further evidence of their asphalt form today by taking a commanding one-two lead in the new look, Tarragona region-based Rally Catalunya.
Under an autumnal
sky which had little in common with the picture postcard image generally associated with the Costa Daurada (Golden Coast), the opening leg of Spain's round of the World Championship featured a copious programme, including 43% of the weekend's total competitive distance divided into six stages of an average length of 26 km each.
On the momentum of their recent win in Corsica, Sébastien, Daniel and their Xsara WRC set the pace from the outset and none of their rivals were able to match the two-times World Champions* as they posted five fastest times from a possible six. François and Sven were only marginally slower, ensuring three Citroën stage one-twos and two 3rd fastest times. "It's been an ideal day," accepted Guy Fréquelin whose mind is already on the two days to come and who is therefore his customary cautious self.
"A very positive day," agreed Sebastien Loeb
before underlining that: "…it's such a buzz getting the line just right over these very fast stages which run on a mostly uniform surface. The first pass was a bit delicate though after only two, low-speed runs in recce. They come at you very differently at rally speed." Something which doesn't happen very often: the Xsara crew reported two 'hairy' moments today: "In SS2," relates Daniel Elena, "there was a 'flat right into flat left' and we hadn't spotted in recce that the surface was heavily cambered. When the underbody guard hit the ground, we found ourselves travelling sideways at something like 200 kph, with the rear right wheel on the grass. Very hairy! Apart from that, the main hazards were the 'steps' you get on the insides of many corners."
Another challenge during Leg 1 was getting tyre choices right: "We made the correct choice for all three loops," Seb was pleased to report. "We had to take it carefully on SS3 when we found ourselves on soft rubber on a dry road, but our choice proved ideal for SS4 which was very wet. Over the loop as a whole, it was the best option. We will try to call our tyre choices just as well tomorrow…"
François Duval shares his team-mate's satisfaction this evening, although the young Belgian admitted to brushing the scenery with his rear right wheel: "It happened about 4 or 5 kilometres into the first stage and calmed me down straight away! Thankfully, the vibrations caused by the incident disappeared as soon as we changed the wheel for the next stage." Like Seb, François was pleased with his choice of soft compound tyres for the damp SS4. "That enabled me to base my pace on that of Marcus [Grönholm] and I will try to do the same thing tomorrow to keep him at bay if the conditions aren't too bad. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, we will see. My aim is to stay on the road. I don't have much experience of the Xsara in the wet…"
* Subject to the publication of the official results by the FIA.