Finally the 2011 season proper has kicked off and what a first leg! Snow had fallen all night and was still roaring in the morning as the cars lined up for the start. Sebastien Loeb would be first on the road due to last year’s title standings. The French ace would suffer massive time loss as his DS3 struggled for grip on the loose powder. Jari-Matti Latvala would set a time over 40secs faster! Biggest loser in the first stage would be P-G Andersson who had been tipped to do very well this weekend. The Swedish driver would put the car on one side during the first stage and lose a lot of time. It would however not be the last we would here of P-G.
The real surprise would come from Mads Ostberg and his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta. He would jump out to a huge lead early in the day, however as the day progressed, Mikko Hirvonen would take chunks out of that lead. At the end of the first day the lead would only be 14.8 secs over Hirvonen. Real issue for Ostberg will be his starting road position for tomorrow. He will be first on the load and will lose time for sure with the snow. Hirvonen has positioned himself well to attack tomorrow.
Petter Solberg had a solid run with a few issues on the day. Given his lack of testing in the DS3, this is a very respectable day for the 2003 champion. He did take a 10 sec penalty for a late service right before SS5. That aside, he kept it on the road and will have good road position heading into the second leg.
Jari-Matti Latvala started the day flying through the stages, but would drop as low as 5th before ending the day in 4th position +1:10.0 off of Ostberg. Road position will help JML as he will have three other car plowing the loose powder. Given his pace early on, I am not sure if he was not holding back just a little for that road position. You can be quick in a rally, but having situational awareness is key to success. This maybe an evolution of JMLs driving with his ability to know the situation. He will have good road position and has put himself in a good position by just keeping the car on the road.
The fifth position goes to Henning Solberg. The man who had been fastest in shakedown would gain a jump start and would gather a 10sec penalty for his troubles. That being said, He was all over the stages and has really been on the edge during the rally weekend.
Noteables: The Citroen Total boys would have serious troubles all during the first day. While Ogier would impress with a pair of stage wins, Sebastien Loeb would absolutely suffer all day with his first road position. Loeb would also pickup a puncture on the last stage to drop him even further down the list. Loeb is currently ninth overall and 2mins 48secs off of the lead. While Loeb is a master driver, this gap is too much for victory in these conditions.
P-G Andersson would suffer as well. He would pickup two stage wins, but suffer the slight roll onto his side, punctures and just anything that could go wrong did for P-G. A wasted opportunity as he was a favorite for the event even before the rally started. He now sits off the pace by four and a half minutes. 2011 is not shaping up to be P-G’s year if Monte and Sweden are any indication.
Ken Block and Kimi Raikkonen would have an interesting day. Both would suffer from offs and just lack of control over their machine. Block has never run on studded snow tires, but has just had no control. The high point of the day was when he won the Colin’s Crest Award which is given for the biggest jump off of the named section. Kimi would have a day full of spins, offs, and punctures that would see him slide down the order as well. One positive thing that each can look at is the fact they are still in the rally. This second year will see both of these drivers mature a lot more and perhaps reduce the number of crashes we had last season. The rally is still early yet.
Be sure to keep it at this space for second day results tomorrow. Leg one has been very exciting and leg two will promise to have even more intensity as the leaderboard settles in.