Catalunya - CitroŽn Sport - Leg 1
The first leg of the 2007 Rally Catalunya ended this evening in Salou with CitroŽn C4 WRCs holding first and second places. Sebastien Loeb
and Daniel Elena top the provisional leaderboard, while Dani Sordo and Marc MartŪ follow in second
spot in their identical machine, just behind their team-mates.
With six stages totalling 148km on the menu, the opening day of the 2007 World Rally Championship's twelfth round was the longest of the weekend. The first two tests, to the northeast of the Port Aventura service park, were covered twice each, while the day concluded with two other tests, this time to the northwest.
Also, with the Spanish round reverting to its autumn slot, the bad weather that moved in over the region came as no surprise. In addition to making the stages extremely treacherous, the downpour that fell over the Costa Daurada on Thursday evening led the organisers to cancel the ceremonial start.
The sun was shining, however, as the competitors left the service park early this morning, but the conditions caused CitroŽn Sport to think long and hard about their tyre choice. With so much water still lingering, both C4 WRCs finally went out on soft compound tyres. The little amount of grip available prompted the team's two crews to start off cautiously, but they then upped their pace on SS2 to ease into first and second places, with Sťbastien ahead of Dani.
The tyre call for the second loop of stages proved complex again. Believing the conditions to be drier, Dani and Marc switched to a harder compound than their team-mates. Both CitroŽn C4 WRC drivers profited from the loop, however, to pull further clear of their rivals, while Seb and Dani traded positions at the top of the leaderboard.
The forecast of showers for the end of the afternoon by Mťtťo France Sports, one of CitroŽn Sport's technical partners, added a further complication to the French team's deliberations as they considered which tyres to fit for the final loop of what turned out to be a very difficult day. The drivers take up the story in their own words...
"Our choice wasn't ideal for the rain on SS6," explained Sebastien Loeb
. "We managed to live with it, though, and even succeeded in pulling out a useful gap over Marcus GrŲnholm. It's been a dramatic opening day but the car and the team ensured we came through it unscathed. It's looking very encouraging at the moment, but there's still a long way to go."
"It was a positive day for us, too," echoed Dani Sordo. "The last stage was really very difficult but I'm pleased to say that we succeeded in pulling even further clear of Marcus. Although it's not the most important thing this weekend, it was nice to lead a World Championship rally for the first time in my career... and on home soil, too. That was something special but, as I say, the main thing is to be ahead of GrŲnholm on Sunday afternoon."
After the day's stressful moments, a sense of relief could be read on Guy Frťquelin's face: "It's been a taxing day but it's behind us now. Everyone in the CitroŽn team did a remarkable job to keep clear of all the potential pitfalls and to enable us to figure in first and second places this evening. Both crews put in superb runs and showed how competitive the C4 is. They are currently ahead of Marcus GrŲnholm which is a good thing in terms of the fight for the championship. I still prefer to be cautious, though, because we're not even halfway into the event yet."