The CitroŽn C4 WRCs take control
The opening leg of the 2009 Cyprus Rally, which featured six asphalt stages contested with the cars running on gravel tyres, saw the two CitroŽn Total World Rally Team C4 WRCs get their weekend off to a flying start by claiming every one of the fastest times. Sťbastien Loeb/Daniel Elena emerged from the opening day at the top of the leaderboard, with Dani Sordo/Marc Marti following in hot pursuit. The contest is far from over, however, and tomorrowís programme will see the action switch to some particularly challenging gravel stages.

Before serious business kicked off this morning, competitors first took part in Thursday eveningís ceremonial start which was held at Limassolís Sports Arena. The last driver off the ramp was Sťbastien Loeb who received a rousing ovation which became even louder when spectators realised that Greek rock star Sakis Rouvas was sitting in the right-hand seat!

Despite pessimistic weather forecasts, the first day of competition started in sunshine as crews pulled out of the Limassol service park for the initial loop of three sealed surface stages. In keeping with his strategy, Sťbastien Loeb hit the ground running and posted a resounding best time on Panagia 1 (30.33km) which immediately took him 13.9s clear of Mikko Hirvonen. He figured on top of the timesheets again on Mylikouri 1 (7.37km) and Geriakes 1 (29.40km), and checked into the lunchtime service break with a 42-second cushion over his direct rival: "Running first on the road meant that I was able to profit from nice clean lines. I spent the morning trying to make the most of that in order to build up as big a lead as possible before we move on to the loose. OK, weíre not going as quickly as we normally would on asphalt, but I have to say that my C4 WRC is quite enjoyable to drive. The important thing was to strike the ideal balance and not slide about too much, but it was fun."

Team-mate Dani Sordo followed the World Champion home in second place on all three tests to hand CitroŽn an early one-two: "The morning went very well. I felt more comfortable on SS2 and SS3 because the tyres gave more and more grip as they started to wear. At the end of the day, though, I didnít find driving in these conditions to be that much fun because youíve got to hold back all the time in order to look after your tyres."

After the 30-mlinute service halt, the crews returned for a second attempt at the same loop. Sťbastien Loeb continued on his momentum and continued to pull clear at the top of the order thanks to fastest times on SS4 and SS5. The Frenchmanís winning streak was stemmed, however, when Dani Sordo claimed the best time on the dayís final test which was slightly damp. With an overnight lead of more than one minute over the factory Focuses, Sťbastien Loeb was understandably pleased with his dayís work: "I took things fairly cautiously on SS6 because my tyres were fairly worn by then. The gap with Mikko is bigger than I had been expecting, but heís not going to just sit back and let me just cruise home to Sundayís finish! That said, a great deal will depend on the weather: if it continues to rain, being first on the road on Saturday could turn out not to be a disadvantageÖ"

Dani Sordo succeeded in holding second place and was equally upbeat about his day: "I think Iíve been driving reasonably well. I dropped a little time at the start of SS6 because of the rain but things picked up after that and I went on to collect my first fastest time of the season."

CitroŽn Racingís Director Olivier Quesnel believes there was a certain logic to the way todayís leg unfolded: "This eveningís situation is what we had been targeting. Asphalt tends to suit us and, despite the carsí rather unusual specification, our drivers showed that they felt comfortable in todayís conditions. We go into the second phase of the event on top, but itís really a new rally that starts tomorrowÖ"

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