Round one: advantage Loeb/Elena
Rally of Great Britain (October 22-25, 2009) – Day 1

The first day of Rally GB, the final round of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, took crews to the infamous gravel stages of South Wales. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena won four of the six tests, which handed them a narrow lead in the overall standings. In the Citroën World Rally Team's second C4 WRC, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti are fighting hard for the third step of the podium.

The teams pulled out of the Cardiff service park before dawn for the opening leg of the rally which took them north for two attempts at a loop of three special stages near Rhayader. At the halfway point, a socalled 'remote' 15-minute service was organised at Builth Wells.

In spite of overnight rainfall, road conditions were still satisfactory for the early runners. Sébastien Loeb is chasing Mikko Hirvonen on this rally and it didn't take long for him to reveal his hand, since he was undefeated on the first three stages, which gave him an advantage of 8.9 seconds at the lunchtime break. "Everything went well this morning. I felt confident in the car and I was able to push flat out from the start. However, the conditions are tricky, with a lot of changes in grip levels," explained Sébastien at the Builth Wells stop. "Rather than concentrating on Mikko's lines, I'm making sure I get mine right…"

As for Dani Sordo, he was running third, nearly 30 seconds behind his team-mate. "I'm satisfied with the handling of my C4 WRC but I must admit that the top two are driving at a very fast pace. We're knuckling down and we're in a fight with Petter Solberg. Coping with the switches from the sections with a lot of grip to the muddier portions isn't easy, but it's pretty much the same for everybody."

By the time the entire field had completed the first loop, the conditions had deteriorated significantly for the second run. In Hafren 2 (SS4) and Myherin 2 (SS6), Sébastien Loeb lost a handful of seconds to Mikko Hirvonen. However, the five-time World Champion managed to set another fastest overall time on Sweet Lamb 2 (SS5) and, by the time he reached Cardiff, he was still leading his rival by 5.3 seconds. "As expected, Mikko and I are having a great battle. It was harder on the second run because the stages had deteriorated quite a lot and were very slippery. Be that as it may, I prefer having a fivesecond lead to being five seconds behind. We'll find out tomorrow whether or not running first on the road is an advantage."

Dani Sordo continued his scrap with Petter Solberg throughout the afternoon. He was third at the end of SS4, but lost that position to the Norwegian on the following test and ended the day fourth overall, 1.1 seconds behind the Citroën Junior Team driver. "The last stage was difficult because it was raining, which made the road even more slippery. I'm really enjoying my battle with Petter, because we're driving without any pressure this weekend. I'll try to regain the advantage tomorrow!"

Leaderboard after day 1
1. Loeb/Elena Citroën C4 1h15’22’’1
2. Hirvonen/Lehtinen Ford Focus +5’’3
3. P. Solberg/Mills Citroën C4 +40’’5
4. Sordo/Marti Citroën C4 +41’’6
5. Ogier/Ingrassia Citroën C4 +2’41’’3
6. H. Solberg/Menkerud Ford Focus +2’50’’1
7. Wilson/Martin Ford Focus +3’23’’0
8. Rautenbach/Barritt Citroën C4 +4’54’’6
9. Latvala/Antilla Ford Focus +6’50’’1
10. Brynildsen/Giraudet Skoda Fabia +7’52’’0

Day 2 (Saturday, October 24): 571.92km, including 138.16km divided into 6 stages (3 different). Service C (07:10, 15 minutes). SS7 (Rhondda 1, 35.72km), SS8 (Crychan 1, 14.99km) and SS9 (Halfway 1, 18.37km). Regroup (13:04, 14 minutes). Service D (13:18, 30 minutes). SS10 (Rhondda 2, 35.72km), SS11 (Crychan 2, 14.99km) and SS12 (Halfway 2, 18.37km). Service E (19:33, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme at 23:30.

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