It's been full steam ahead for Sebastien Loeb
, Daniel Elena and Citroën throughout the long opening leg of the 2005 Rally Argentina which has seen them emerge in front. François Duval and Sven Smeets profited from the day to get progressively back into the groove and an encouraging
2nd fastest time in the final stage enabled them to conclude the leg in 7th position overall.
A consistent run from Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor in their privately-entered Kronos Racing-run Xsara harvested 8th place this evening, while the similar car of Xavier Pons and Carlos del Barrio finished two places behind to make it four Xsaras inside the overnight top-ten!
The first leg, which included practically half the total competitive distance of the rally, kicked off on Thursday evening with the Complejo Pro-Racing super- special near Villa Carlos Paz which attracted a crowd of 80,000 spectators. The excitement had barely died down when, at around midnight, heavy rain began to fall over the region, packing down the sandy stages and deepening the numerous water splashes.
The first runners on the road had no reason to complain about this wintry turn to the weather. On the contrary, it meant they would be spared the task of 'road sweeping' and Sébastien – who was first into the stages – profited from the conditions to drive flat out from the outset: "Being first on the road wasn't a problem. I think the conditions were pretty much the same for the first three or four cars. The 8-compound Michelin BTO tyre we are using here for the first time was perfect. I was able to push hard and I think Petter was pushing hard too."
The day's second loop, which included a repeat of the two long, northerly stages, allowed the reigning World Champion to experience another inconvenience of being first on the road: "In SS7, 'La Cumbre', I came across a bull standing in the middle of the road. I thought it was going to move and it was only at the last minute that I realised it wasn't going to budge. I took to the ditch and punctured my front left tyre, but I still hit the animal with the front right corner. The damage was only superficial – the bonnet, a wing, the front bumper – but it was a big scare. You sometimes need a little luck, and I was lucky today."
After the incident, Seb continued the charge which had already bagged three consecutive fastest times during the morning (SS4, 5 and 6) to claim the last three stages of the day (SS8, 9 and 10). The Citroën driver goes into the second leg of the rally with a lead of half a minute over his closest chaser and his objective will be to maintain that cushion tomorrow.
"François Duval is where I expected him to be," says Guy Fréquelin who appreciated the young Belgian's progressive increase in pace and faultless run, not to mention the 2nd fastest time with which he concluded the day. "It wasn't easy," admits François, visibly relieved. "This event, which marks my return and on which it is so easy to make a mistake, is an important rally for my career. It isn't exactly a pressure-free outing, but Sven and I did well. We both know that it won't be any easier tomorrow, but our objective will be the same: to reach the finish!"
Press release Citroën Sport