15 Aug 08
Sebastien Loeb got his quest for a seventh consecutive Rallye Deutschland victory off to a great start today by winning all of the opening day’s six stages.
The Frenchman threaded his Citroen C4 WRC through the Mosel vineyard roads without incident to return to Trier this evening with a rally lead of 19.9sec. But while Loeb was always expected to do well on this event the man who holds second, Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen, has surprised many with his asphalt pace - including Loeb himself.
“For sure Mikko is going very well and I’ve had to push very hard,” said Loeb. “This afternoon I’ve been on the limit all the time and it’s been difficult to increase the gap. It was possible on the first loop, but on the second he was going well everywhere. But okay, 20 seconds is a good lead for a first day on tarmac, and for the moment it’s going well. There are lots of tough new stages tomorrow, so it will be interesting to see what happens.”
Hirvonen, who is ahead of Loeb by one point in the drivers’ standings, said he had found his groove on the afternoon stages and had every intention of pressuring Loeb on Saturday. “I always knew the speed was there, because we set fastest stages here last year, but for some reason I couldn’t find it in the morning,” he said. “Now it’s here again and I hope I can keep it going tomorrow. It feels really good in the car and I’m enjoying myself. For tomorrow it’s a simple plan - full attack.”
Loeb’s team-mate Dani Sordo held second place for much of the day, but was overtaken my Hirvonen on SS5. The Spaniard complained of excessive understeer on the morning’s stages and reported a lack of grip on the latter stages. He will start Saturday’s competition 5.7 sec behind Hirvonen. “The feeling in the car is better now but I had the harder tyres this afternoon and in the hairpins I lost a lot of time,” he said. “But tomorrow we’ll see. Mikko’s going well, so my first property is to catch him, and then we’ll see. Everything is possible.”
The Stobart VK M-Sport team’s asphalt recruit Francois Duval is fourth. But after complaining of understeer and a slow transmission shift in the morning, the Belgian remained downbeat as he returned to service this evening. “They changed the suspension and differentials but the handling was no better this afternoon. All I can do tomorrow is push,” he shrugged.
Jari-Matti Latvala rounds out the top five in the second BP Ford Abu Dhabi car. “It’s been okay, we improved the car in the afternoon with a new set up and I’m quite satisfied,” he said. “Of course, I’m not as fast as the guys ahead, but I need to get the mileage and improve my driving step by step. Tomorrow I hope I can keep the Subaru’s behind, it’s hard to catch the guys in front but the main thing is keep this position.”
Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson are sixth and seventh for the Subaru World Rally Team, while Henning Solberg of the Stobart VK M-Sport team is eighth, in the final points winning place.