Loeb and Elena in a good position
Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena completed the opening day of the 2009 Rally Italia Sardinia in third place, a result which puts them in a position where they won’t have to sweep the stages for their rivals when competition resumes on Saturday. It turned out to be a somewhat tougher day, however, for Dani Sordo and Marc Marti who are eighth.

Day 1 of the Rally Italia Sardinia took crews south of the rally’s base to the Budduso region for a loop of three which featured a bit of all the different conditions competitors face this weekend, ranging from rough to much faster surfaces. The hot, dry weather meant that the first day was always going to be difficult for the first driver on the road who faced the task of sweeping a clean line in the sandy top-coating which covered the hard-packed gravel base underneath.

Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena had no alternative than to push as hard as possible, but the Frenchman was in a positive frame of mind on his return to Olbia for service after SS3: "The conditions were very slippery and we had to be especially careful when braking. We’re only 15 seconds down on Latvala, which is less than I had feared."

Despite posting the quickest time on Loelle 1 (SS2), Dani Sordo was more than a minute behind the leader at this point: "We incurred a 30-second penalty before the start of SS1 following a problem with a turbo sensor. The first two stages went well for us, but we dropped a little time on SS3 when I couldn’t avoid hitting a stone which was in our direct path. The impact ripped off the hose from the remote front-right damper reservoir which lost all its fluid." The mechanics profited from the 30-minute lunchtime service halt to change the engine subframe and suspension wishbone, too, and Dani restarted with a further 30-second time penalty.

Sébastien Loeb continued to push during the afternoon and claimed the best time on SS5 before choosing to lift on the day’s final test: "I realised I wouldn’t be able to hold off Hirvonen running first on the road. Even pushing as hard as I was, I wasn’t able to pull out a gap. After a lot of hard thought, we decided to leave Latvala with a forty or so second lead so that he would choose to stay in front. At the same time, Mikko got his sums wrong and he too will start ahead of us tomorrow. It’s a gamble being 43 seconds down on Latvala this evening. We will see on Sunday whether we did the right thing…"

Dani had a more straightforward run this afternoon: "The mechanics put my C4 back in perfect shape at the lunchtime service halt, and that meant I was able to push hard and post some good times this afternoon. Being overnight eighth means I will have a good start order tomorrow. I will continue to drive as quickly as I can because I believe fourth place is an achievable target."

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