With two crews at the sharp end of the Catalunya Rally at the end of the opening day, the Citroen Junior Team got quickly up to speed on Spanish asphalt. Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia returned to Salou in fifth place ahead of teammates Evgeny Novikov and Stephane
Prevot, who were seventh. Conrad Rautenbach and Daniel Barritt have placed their Citroen C4 WRC just outside the top ten.
The start of the day proved to be tricky for all the competitors of the Spanish event, as several road sections on the first stage were damp following overnight rain. In these delicate conditions, the three Citroen Junior Team crews aimed just to settle themselves gently into the first few kilometres of the rally.
Ogier was sixth after the first stage, held to the north of Salou, and then climbed to fifth before reaching midday service. "It's hard to gain proper confidence in these conditions," he said. "Our set-up was maybe a little too aggressive for the damp roads. We lost a bit of time, but we're not here to fight for victory. I hope that we can find a slightly quicker pace this afternoon."
Evgeny Novikov, driving a World Rally Car on asphalt for the first time, was up to seventh by the end of the second special stage. "It was difficult for me as I am driving this rally for the first time," said the Russian. "I'm gaining confidence with every kilometre. The car is competitive; all I need is a bit more experience. I'm going to try and improve my times during the second loop."
Conrad Rautenbach felt less at ease on the slippery roads, and he also had to deal with brake problems. "It was a difficult morning," he said. "I wasn't really expecting conditions quite like this. In the first stage I used the brakes too much and they overheated.
Afterwards, I couldn't find the confidence to properly push."
In the afternoon Ogier continued his progress up the leaderboard, ending the day in fifth place between Petter Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala. "We definitely found some extra confidence," he reported. "I felt a lot more comfortable the second time through the stages, when we knew that the notes were working well. I was happy with the pace that we found in the afternoon. If we can make another step forwards that would be great – but there are still plenty more kilometres left to run on this rally."
Evgeny Novikov ended the day with a lot more valuable asphalt experience under his belt. "The car is quick," he reported. "I've got a very good feeling at the wheel of the Citroen C4 WRC now. We didn't make the slightest mistake this afternoon. I've still got a few difficulties with the notes on this surface though. I need some more kilometres in order to improve."
By the end of the day's stages, Conrad Rautenbach had found a solid rhythm to lie 12th overall. "At the service halt, we softened the car settings a bit in order to find a bit more confidence," recounted the Zimbabwean. "That definitely helped, even though we probably went a bit too far in this direction. I'm starting to develop a good feeling with the car now and I hope we can be right on the pace tomorrow."