Stage description: Apart from being shortened by 190m at the finish, this is identical to 2012. It winds along the uphill ‘Cinq Chateaux’ road among the trees before crossing Husseren and Voegtlinshoffen villages. It then enters the famous Goldert vineyard before reaching the Firstplan pass to end on a fast downhill section. It climbs and descends all the way on a variety of surfaces.
How the action unfolded:
Dani Sordo became the new leader of Rallye de France – Alsace after Thierry Neuville punctured his left-hand rear tyre on a dramatic first stage of the afternoon.
Neuville was first to tackle the stage, but split times showed he was more than 1m 20s slower than his rivals. Arriving at the control with his Fiesta’s rear wheel running on the rim, a downcast Neuville explained what had happened.
“We slid slightly wide in a right-hand junction and hit something, a stone or something. It pushed the tyre off the rim, it deflated and then it was finished. It’s not possible to win any more,” he said.
The time loss dropped Neuville to fifth, behind a group of four drivers now separated by just 5.2 seconds.
The fight for the lead intensified further thanks to the times of Sebastien Ogier and Sebastien Loeb who were first and second fastest. Ogier was quickest, to narrow the overall gap between them to 0.7sec and finally ignite the much-anticipated ‘battle of the Sebs’.
Asked if he felt he could win, Ogier said: “Yes, it’s more possible now, but we have to carry on like this. We pushed hard and yes, we are taking risks.”
Loeb turned up the wick as well, but with the stage drying after the earlier rain, he was concerned about the life in his soft-compound tyres. “I tried to push but it was difficult because we are heating the tyres a lot. Apart from that I’m okay. I did quite a good stage I think.”
Sordo meanwhile found that his third fastest time had landed him a 2.9sec rally lead over Jari-Matti Latvala. “It’s a nice fight, but Jari-Matti and the others are doing well too. I was on the soft tyre and the car was moving about a lot. Everything can happen, so it’s going to be interesting….” he said.
Latvala had a few fraught moments in his Polo R, and at the stage end was still trying to take in all that had happened. “We have a big fight, and I’m not sure what Loeb and Ogier will do yet. Nothing is clear. I lost the brakes near the start when the road was wet and I was scared. There were one or two cuts that I didn’t like either. I’m hoping the next stages will be better,” he said.