Poland - Citroen World Rally Team - Day One
The first leg of Rally Poland was marked by the retirement of five-time World Champions Sebastien Loeb
and Daniel Elena who will rejoin the competition on Saturday morning under the SupeRally ruling.
The Citroen World Rally
Team's chances are now in the hands of Dani Sordo and Marc Marti who are third overall tonight.
Following Thursday evening's super special just next to the service area, serious business got under way this morning with the first of the day's two groups of three stages to the east of Mikolajki, in the region between Lakes Sniardwy and Niegocin.
Despite the ominous cloud cover which greeted crews as they pulled out of service, the rain held off for the entire day.
The front-runners wasted no time finding their marks and there were only tenths of a second in it over the first ultra-fast stages. The opening test (SS2, Grabowka) saw Ford's Mikko Hirvonen post the best time, but that didn't prevent Loeb from emerging in front by half a second.
The following stage (Planki) then saw Hirvonen take command... by a mere three tenths!
Unfortunately, their duel went little further when Loeb was forced to park up on Paprotki (SS4): "We hit a tree stump which was concealed by sand and soft earth. It was right on my line, but we failed to spot it during recce. It broke the suspension clean off and we had no choice but to stop. There were still 30km of the stage to go and we would never have made it to the finish.
Loeb and Elena will nonetheless be able to start the second leg under the SupeRally ruling: "We'll be about 20 minutes down on the leaders so we'll have to dig deep to find the motivation, but there's a chance we can pick up some manufacturers' points for Citroen, and that's not an opportunity to be missed."
Despite a 'straight on' during SS4, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti completed the first loop with a firm grip on third place, and the hopes of the Citroen team now rest squarely on the shoulders of the Spanish pair.
"Dani is in a difficult situation," observed Citroen Racing Director Olivier Quesnel. "He needs to drive steadily to make sure he holds on to third place, but he still needs to keep a certain amount of pressure on the two Fords in front. We need points and he can't afford to lose his footing on the provisional podium."
Sordo and Marti fulfilled their mission to the letter by rounding off the opening leg in third spot.
"It hasn't been an easy day," Sordo said. "The stages were very fast and it wasn't that straightforward to push really hard after just two passes during recce. I took the second pass quite cautiously because the ideal line had become badly rutted and I didn't want to pick up a puncture."
"With the exception of SS7, we managed to match the pace of (Ford driver Jari-Matti) Latvala and I think we should be to keep up the same sort of pace tomorrow," Sordo concluded.