The Citroen World Rally Team enjoyed a faultless run on the first day of the 2009 Rally Catalunya. Dani Sordo and co-driver Marc Marti emerged in front after the opening stage and delighted local rally fans by reaching this evening's overnight halt in Salou at the top of the leaderboard.
stien Loeb and Daniel Elena are less than two seconds behind their Spanish teammates in second place and have succeeded in distancing themselves from Ford's Mikko Hirvonen.
Day One's programme featured two loops of three stages, all approximately 20km in length. Crews headed north out of the Salou service area first thing this morning en route for SS1 (La Mussara 1) which saw Dani Sordo claim the fastest time to take an early lead: "Lingering damp portions made the first stage quite difficult. I had a bit of understeer. Given the conditions, though, I think that's something most of us suffered from."Sebastien Loeb
was third best, two seconds down on Sordo and one second behind Hirvonen, and was less pleased with his run than his teammate: "My car was fairly twitchy in the damp on hard tyres. I had a lot of understeer and I didn't feel one hundred per cent comfortable."
The second and third stages were less slippery, but Sordo continued to dominate the timesheets and the Asturias-based driver reached lunchtime service with three fastest times to his name.
"Unlike last year, I have total confidence in my C4 WRC," he said. "My pacenotes are good and I succeeded in posting competitive times without having to push too hard. Posting quick times came quite easily, in fact, and it might even be a little easier still this afternoon when the stages promise to be entirely dry."
Loeb completed the morning's loop a handful of seconds behind his teammate, and he was in a far more cheerful mood on his return to Salou.
"There's no question about it: I need to finish ahead of Mikko Hirvonen," he stated. "The morning went well for us overall and we have succeeded in pulling out a small gap over him. We will now use the service break to take a look at our set-up, because I wasn't completely happy with my car as it was."
After the 30-minute halt the two C4 WRCs headed back out for a second attempt at the same three stages. Dani Sordo picked up his fourth consecutive fastest time on SS4, while Sebastien Loeb
responded with the best performances on SS5 and SS6.
It was nonetheless the Spaniard who returned to Salou as overnight leader thanks to a slender advantage of 1.6 seconds: "I didn't take any risks and I think I drove well again. We increased our cushion over Mikko Hirvonen this afternoon and Citroen has the situation well in hand at the moment."
"The small changes we made to the set-up at lunchtime enabled us to cure our understeer problem," reported Loeb. "My car was perfect this afternoon, and that enabled me to drive with a much freer mind, as my two fastest times suggest. It's close at the top with Dani and both us are driving close to the limit. The situation as it stands is practically ideal, and that's encouraging for the next two days of the rally."