Friday’s opening test begins in Bernardswiller on a double-width road but after 2km it turns into Klevener vineyard. The next 1.5km are narrow and tricky, before the test widens and becomes more flowing as it climbs to Heiligenstein on roads alternating between asphalt and concrete. It finishes before the railway line in Gertwiller.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Ogier may have secured his maiden world title last night, but the old master, Sebastien Loeb, cautioned everyone not to write him off by winning this morning’s opening Klevener test in his Citroen DS3.
Despite starting seventh on the road, conditions were still clean for Loeb. The nine-time world champion, driving his final rally, was quickest by nine-tenths of a second from the similar car of Dani Sordo to climb to third overall.
“A good start,” summarised the Frenchman, who is competing for the first time since Rally Argentina in early May. “I tried to push very hard and the feeling was good. It was dry and not a difficult stage. I hope I can continue safely like this.”
Sordo, the winner on asphalt in Germany in August, looked focused at the stop line. The Spaniard made it quite clear he felt he could claim a second victory in France this weekend and after winning last night’s opening test, he leads by 1.1sec.
Just two-tenths of a second further back was the Volkswagen Polo R of Jari-Matti Latvala, the Finn happy with his performance. “There were a couple of places where I thought there might be dirt on the road, but it was pretty clean so I don’t think the boys ahead have been cutting too much,” he said.
What of the new champion? Ogier was fourth in his Polo R, the Frenchman unsurprisingly admitting it was a bit of a struggle after last night’s excitement. “It was OK but I had to motivate myself. I didn’t get too much sleep. It wasn’t too late, but I took a long time to get to sleep,” he smiled.
Andreas Mikkelsen was fifth, 2.4sec behind Loeb. The Norwegian admitted his Polo R had taken ‘quite a bump’ at a compression midway through the test.
A content Thierry Neuville rounded off the top six in his Ford Fiesta RS. “I can be happy with that. I had one small slide where I lost a bit of time. I braked later than Seb everywhere but……,” admitted the Belgian who followed Ogier off the startline.
Mikko Hirvonen was unhappy with eighth in his DS3, 7.2sec off the pace, the Finn complaining his car felt too soft. Mads Ostberg was 10.2sec behind Loeb in his Fiesta RS, the Norwegian explaining he had to be cautious.
“I have a soft tyre on the rear and it was very slippery in some corners. I had to be careful, I couldn’t push the way I wanted to,” said Ostberg, who is wearing glasses for the first time.
“I had a laser operation about four years ago but I tested my eyes recently and they were slightly off. They have been more and more out lately, so I need to correct them with glasses,” he explained.
An early casualty was Tomas Kostka, who failed to emerge in his Citroen DS3. The Czech driver is partnered by stand-in co-driver Chris Patterson after Miroslav Houst was taken ill during the recce and withdrew.