25 Apr 08
Grip - or a lack of it - has been the main feature of the first four stages of Rally Jordan.
All of the WRC drivers have reported extremely slippery conditions on the hard-packed gravel roads, and most have reported lucky escapes from the odd wide moment. A top layer of loose gravel has made the going especially tough for the first few cars running through the stages.
Citroens have won each of four stages run so far, but the team’s second driver, Dani Sordo has had the edge over his team-mate Sebastien Loeb on three of those. Sordo took the joint lead of the rally on stage one, together with Petter Solberg, but moved ahead on the next and returned to the mid-point service with a lead of 13.8sec.
The fact that he completed the recce here in 2007 has definitely helped him adapt to the unique road surface, but the Spaniard reckons an advantageous start position has been the biggest help. “I’ve had a great morning, but I made some mistakes, said Sordo. “I’ve taken it very carefully in some places when I haven’t had good confidence. The last stage (SS4) was especially difficult and I struggled with my pace notes on the blind crests - I didn’t know where to place the car. I think my lead owes more to running sixth on the road than the fact that I did the recce here last year.”
Jari-Matti Latvala is the fastest Ford driver and holds second place after SS4. "The roads are more slippery than I thought and it's hard to be fully confident," he said. "The gravel roads are as hard as asphalt so the tyres are spinning because they're not breaking the surface. I'm spending too much time sideways, which is wearing my tyres, so I need to change my driving style. It's so different from any other event and they're not my favourite roads, but I need to be able to drive on every surface. I had a few small escapes, but no big dramas."
Sebastien Loeb returned to service in third, 14 seconds adrift of Sordo. The defending world champion said he was generally unhappy with the handling of his Citroen C4 WRC - especially in the slower corners - and felt that running as first car and acting as road sweeper on the road was a disadvantage. He said his team would be making some set-up changes during the 30-minute service.
After setting the joint fastest time on the opening stage, Subaru’s Petter Solberg had slipped to fifth after SS4. “It was difficult, we lost traction in the second stage and I don’t know why, he said. “It has been inconsistent since then. The car seems to change handling all the time.”
Mikko Hirvonen lies fifth in his Focus RS, 16.7sec from the lead. As Hirvonen is second in the start order he had to cope with slippery gravel on the surface but a more serious hazard arose 7km from the finish of SS2 when he went off the road and slightly damaged his rear right suspension. "My pace notes were too optimistic and I came over a crest too fast and went off when the road turned immediately afterwards. It didn't cost much time but the handling felt strange afterwards. I'm happy with fifth and this would be a perfect position for the start order tomorrow, so long as the gap to the leader doesn't become bigger.”