Loeb dominates leg one in Finland

Loeb dominates leg one in FinlandFrom Citroen Press [ 01/08/2008 ].
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The long and challenging opening day of this year's Rally Finland saw crews get off to an early start, with competitive action continuing well into the evening. The ninth round of the 2008 World Championship marked a successful return to WRC business for Citroën Sport which completed the leg with both works C4 WRCs in the overnight top-five. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena top the provisional leaderboard, while their teammates Dani Sordo and Marc Martí follow in fifth place.

 

With a total competitive distance of 131.70km on the menu divided into 11 stages in the Jyväskylä region,
the first day was always going to be much more than a simple chance for crews to find their marks again
after the summer break. "We've really had to hit the ground running. I had a little trouble waking up this
morning, but I don't think that showed in our stage times," joked Sébastien Loeb after the second of two
visits to the first group of three stages. The defending World Champions had taken the lead on Thursday
evening's super-special and were fastest on all six of today's tests as they proceeded to pull out a cushion of
9.1 seconds after SS7. "First time round this morning's loop, we were encouraged by the impeccable handling
of our C4 WRC to push hard. We were frequently on the limit, but that's the only way to build up a lead here
in Finland! The conditions were damper this afternoon and the going was fairly tricky because certain
portions were quite cut up, while the grip had altered in other places. We had to be on our toes all the time,
but that didn't stop us attacking all the way. That's the challenge of this event; you need to find the ideal
compromise."

Dani Sordo and Marc Martí also got off to a strong start which underpinned the value of the work put in by
the team on last month's OK-Auto-Rally. "The pace is much faster here," smiled the Spaniard, "but the
chance of covering extra kilometres on this terrain which is so specific turned out to be extremely useful. It
only took me a few corners to settle into a quick but safe pace. Our situation changed when one of our main
rivals retired. It is important that we keep the Manufacturers' title chase in mind because this event could be
good for us." Dani and Marc left the second visit to the Jyväskylä service park in third place after SS7 with
the firm intention of defending their position.

The remainder of the day's programme featured three more stages, plus a second visit to the super-special
for a total competitive distance of 44.76km before returning to Jyväskylä for the final service halt.
"We continued at the same pace and ended up increasing our lead," commented Seb this evening. "We
pushed as hard as we did this morning and managed to extend our cushion to 13.9s. Tomorrow's stages are
narrower and covered in gravel, and the day promises to be just as long. We didn't want to finish in second
place this evening and waste all the hard work we put in to pull out tonight's gap! We'll see later whether
that was the best tactic."

Dani had less knowledge of Friday's last three stages and dropped a little ground. "I didn't feel as confident
as this morning," he admitted. "The stages were extremely fast at times and you needed to feel 100% at one
with your car to drive flat in places. We're not in a bad situation, though. We are in a good position for
tomorrow and we will try to make the most of that."

"There has been plenty to be pleased about today," observed Olivier Quesnel. "To begin with, both our cars
were both extremely competitive, and that's a fitting reward for all the hard work the team has put in.
Sébastien and Daniel produced an eloquent demonstration of the C4 WRC's potential by posting the fastest
time on practically every stage and by ending the day in the lead. The Finnish stages are a huge challenge
but Dani and Marc showed that they are continuing to make progress. Both our crews are in a good position
to finish in the big points, but this rally is by no means over yet. The second leg is very long and could well
spring a surprise or two."