Sweden : Citroen Sport - Leg 1Sebastien Loeb
and Daniel Elena completed the opening leg of the 2007 Swedish Rally in second place, while fellow CitroŽn C4 WRC runners Dani Sordo and Marc MartŪ ended the day in 23rd position.
Loeb's fastest times and Sordo's increasingly
competitive run show that the CitroŽn C4 WRC is competitive in these conditions on which it is competing for the first time.
The first leg of the weekend featured 114km of stages and the action kicked off with Thursday evening's superspecial in Karlstad. Today's menu included seven further stages, including two classics Ė Hara and Vargasen Ė located to the north of the Hagfors service park. Sub-zero temperatures and a nice layer of ice promised a picture book backdrop for the event, despite a lack of traditional snow banks, but the fresh snow that fell on Wednesday and Thursday rectified the situation.
As championship leader following his win on January's Monte Carlo Rally, Loeb was first on the road and spent much of the day sweeping aside a clearer line for those running further down the order, always a handicap on this event, particularly in snowy weather. On top of that, after stalling at the start of yesterday's superspecial, he began the day with a deficit of 8.1 seconds compared with the overnight leader.
However, ably assisted by the 384 studs on each of his BFGoodrich g-Force Ice tyres, he managed to make up ground, profiting from the idyllic conditions of SS4 to give the C4 WRC its first fastest time on this type of surface.
"When there's a perfect coating of ice and no fresh snow, I feel very comfortable with the C4 WRC. It's very easy to drive, nicely balanced and handles well," commented the Frenchman at the lunchtime service halt.
The three-time World Champion then backed up his words by rounding off the afternoon with another fastest time first time through Vargasen (SS7). "I am reassured about the potential of the C4 in these ultra-slippery conditions. I didn't want to lose too much ground compared with our rivals today and we achieved that objective. Tomorrow, we will be fighting on a level playing field, perhaps even for victory."
Intent on driving at a cautious pace for only his second visit to Sweden, Sordo lost more than three minutes when he was caught out on SS2. Unsettled by the incident, he chose not to take any risks during the rest of the morning. The second half of the day, however, confirmed the 2005 JWRC champ's gritty character, his times consistently improving as his confidence returned.
"This really is a rally where experience counts a great deal. At times, it was very difficult to know where to place the car because I only had the marks left by Sebastien's car to go by. I feel I'm not using the full potential of the C4 WRC but I prefer to drive at my own pace and carry on learning. I will have a better start position tomorrow, so that should make life a little easier."
Guy Frequelin was pleased at the end of the first leg and the first eight stages.
"The situation at the end of the opening day is very positive. If you deduct the time dropped by Sťbastien on the superspecial and if you take away the seconds he lost on SS5 when he was troubled by a helicopter flying overhead while he was driving along a straight, he would be even closer to the leader."
"The CitroŽn C4 WRC's times today were very reassuring. The car is clearly quick and competitive on this type of surface. Despite his unfavourable road position, Sťbastien managed to take the fight to his main rivals. Tomorrow he will be 14th on the road and should therefore benefit from ideal conditions. Dani's misadventure was a shame. He is used to driving the Xsara and had trouble finding the windscreen-wiper switch which could have prevented his small off."
"He was understandably unsettled at first but he then succeeded in setting some increasingly eloquent (fast) times. All these positive points are reassuring for the work that everyone at CitroŽn Sport has put in."