Loeb and Elena slip-slide into the lead
The thrilling opening day of the 2009 Rally Norway saw five changes at the top of the leaderboard as competitors contested the stages of the Kongsvinger region. Both Citroën Total World Rally Team crews revelled in the perfect conditions, with Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena completing the first leg on top with a small advantage over their chasers. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti also fulfilled their mission by concluding their solid day in fourth place.

As they left parc ferme this morning, crews were greeted by clear blue skies and a picture book coating of ice and snow on the stages. Temperatures as low as minus 20°C added a further traditional ingredient which ensured that Rally Norway’s first full day of action took place to a truly magnificent backdrop. Following Thursday evening’s super-special at Oslo’s horse trotting track, the cars headed south out of Hamar for two loops of four stages, split by a remote service halt in Kongsvinger.

The day was marked from the outset by an exciting clash between Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen. The latter took the lead thanks to a fastest time on SS3 and the five-time World Champion followed in second place at the lunchtime break, 4.8 seconds behind his rival: "The organisers took the initiative of sending a snowplough through the stages between recce and the start, which meant that running first on the road wasn’t such a big handicap. I feel confident: the balance of my C4 WRC is perfectly suited to these conditions and I’m really enjoying my fight with Mikko."

Dani Sordo took a little time to settle, but he was equally pleased to be up in provisional fourth place: "I dropped some time through those portions where I was using my notes from 2007, and I also stalled in a hairpin. I had great fun, though, especially through the parts where I felt I had the confidence to push harder. I’m reasonably pleased with the way things stand at the moment."

The scrap became fiercer still second time round and Sébastien Loeb continued to figure in second spot until he was handed the lead after the day’s final test: "I’m delighted to have been able to fight with the Scandinavians at the sharp end. Staying on the road isn’t easy at these speeds and we’re on the limit pretty much all the time. The conditions were especially challenging second time through because the Group N runners had left a layer of crushed ice on the lines we take with our WRC cars. I could see that Hirvonen’s tyres weren’t in ideal shape going into the last stage. I don’t know whether he slowed down deliberately to hand me the lead, but the fact remains that we’re in front this evening. With the gap standing at less than three seconds, I would have preferred to have been second on the road tomorrow, but I don’t think running first will be an insurmountable problem. We shall see..."

A further consistent display from Dani Sordo saw him successfully defend fourth spot and the Spaniard was all smiles as he showed up at the evening’s service part at the Vikingship, a huge, ship-shaped skating rink which was built for the 2004 Winter Olympics: "Driving on snow isn’t my speciality, but I’ve got to say that it’s beginning to come more naturally to me. I have a good feeling with my C4 WRC, as well as with the set-up we have chosen for this event. I still don’t have enough confidence to be able to mix it with the others, especially through the twistier portions, but I can’t wait for the second day to start so that I can continue to learn."

Citroën Racing’s Director Olivier Quesnel was also happy with the way the first day unfolded: "First of all, it’s been a great day of rallying. Sébastien drove magnificently and I think he’s succeeded in sowing a seed of doubt in the mind of our opponent. I believe he’s gained the upper hand psychologically, and we will need to push that advantage home tomorrow. As for Dani, he’s putting in just the sort of run we asked of him in terms of the bigger Manufacturers’ World Championship picture. He has defended fourth place in style by warding off pressure from drivers who are known specialists of this sort of surface. The second leg promises to be just as exciting as today’s show..."

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