A dramatic start in Sardinia
Despite the fine, summery weather, the opening, three-stage loop of the 2009 Rally d’Italia-Sardegna produced plenty of drama this morning. Three Citroën C4 WRCs figured inside the top-six at the weekend’s first service halt, with Citroën Total World Rally Team’s Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena – who is running first on the road today – currently in second spot. The Citroën Junior Team’s Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia and Evgeny Novikov/Dale Moscatt are fifth and sixth respectively.

Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were fully aware that the first morning of the event was likely to be tough: "The stages are very slippery and we had to brake very early because there just isn’t very much grip, but then we had been expecting a tough start. We are second overall at the moment and I have a good feeling with my car."

The afternoon’s loop is an exact repeat of the morning’s action, but promises to be just as challenging: "There’s a good chance we will have more ’road sweeping’ to do. I am pushing as hard as I can to stay as close to the lead as possible, but I know it won’t be a good idea to be in the same position at the start of the second day."

Dani Sordo and Marc Marti began the day by incurring a 30-second penalty for late arrival at the start of the first stage after the Spanish pair was delayed on the road section by a turbo sensor problem. They were third fastest on SS1, and won SS2 outright, but they then lost further time on SS3 with a damper problem: "We hit a rock which was on the ideal line and fluid leaked from the front-right damper. The car was moving around all over the place. We dropped a bit of time, but we made it to the finish. I was very happy with my car up to that point."

The Citroën Total World Rally Team mechanics profited from the service halt to change the damper, as well as the wishbone and engine subframe which had also sustained damage. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti checked out three minutes late, which means they have taken a further 30 seconds of time penalties.

Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia started ninth on the road this morning and completed the loop in fifth place: "It’s been a very positive start. We found a good pace straight away, and our pacenotes are improving. We consequently feel more comfortable first time through the stages without having to take too many risks. This is the first WRC event we are doing for the second time and I can recall certain portions from last year, so that’s a plus. I feel really comfortable and I am pleased with our set-up, but the event has only just begun. Our aim is to keep up the same sort of pace all the way to the finish and try not to make any mistakes."

Evgeny Nokivov and Dale Moscatt are just behind their team-mates in sixth place: "We got off to a good start on the first two stages, and the third stage began well for us, too. I then made a small mistake, however, when the rear drifted wide and we span. That cost us a little bit of time. I feel comfortable with my car and the set-up is ideal for the conditions. That said, the stages are more slippery than I had been expecting."

After completing the first stage inside the top-10, Conrad Rautenbach and Daniel Barritt are provisionally 11th overall: "I changed my driving style to suit the conditions and I am happy with the way the morning went. I like the set-up of my C4 WRC, but the stages are very slippery and finding grip wasn’t easy. I think the conditions will improve this afternoon. Our objective is to carry on learning and move up the order. We will have a little think during the lunchtime break to see how we can improve."

After the service halt, crews returned for a second visit to the same 65.10km loop of three stages. The first car is due back this evening at 6pm.

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