A good start for Loeb and Elena, leaders after Day 1 in Wales

Wales Rally GB began yesterday with three excitement-packed stages. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena lead the overall classification with 7/10s in hand over Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, their rivals in their quest for the 2011 FIA World Rally Champion title. The second Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 WRC had to retire in SS1 after Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia went off: they will be back in therace tomorrow morning.

After the Wednesday morning shakedown, the crews went to the county of Conwy for the start of the rallygiven at 14h30 today, Thursday. The teams immediately tackled Great Orme, a tarmac stage not used since1981, in blazing sunshine! It overlooks the Irish Sea and the 4.74-km run turned out to be very slippery forthe WRCs on gravel tyres.

Sébastien Loeb, who was second quickest in the first stage, underlined its difficulty: “How can I best put it?It’s a very special special! I just concentrated on keeping it between the hedges and not make mistakes, andI’m pretty happy with this start.” At the very moment the seven-time world champion finished his sentence,Sébastien Ogier went off!

“It happened after1.7-km. In a fairly quick right-hand curve I tried to tighten my line by going up onto apavement. This destabilized the car and we hit a rock as we came out a bit wide. As is often the case in thistype of situation, a few centimeters made all the difference. We hit with the left-hand rear wheel and thesuspension broke,” explained Ogier. The Citroën Total World Rally Team mechanics brought the no. 2 DS3WRC back to the Builth Wells service park three hours by road from Llandudno. Thanks to the Super Rallyrules Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia should be at the start of SS4 tomorrow morning having beenhanded a 15-minute penalty!

Loeb put on a great performance setting the fastest time second time through Great Orme. The day finishedwith Clocaenog, a forest stage typical of the event. Loeb’s second place behind Mikko Hirvonen was goodenough to give him the overall lead.

“It’s really very very muddy. The grip changed in every corner,” he said breathlessly at the finish. “We’vetaken the lead, and that’s great even if the gaps are tiny. Above all, we had to make sure we didn’t damagethe car as the evening service probably wouldn’t have allowed us to carry out the necessary repairs. We’vemade a good start to the rally. We’ll have to continue in the same vein tomorrow morning.”The crews rejoined the seaside town of Llandudno for a remote service halt of 15 minutes, during whichrepairs to the car could only be carried out with the on-board parts. After spending the night on the spot, thecrews will begin tomorrow’s stages at 5h30. The start of SS4 will be given at 7h33 and the cars will return tothe Builth Wells service park at 12h00.