Dust bedevils Catalunya Day 1
SALOU, Spain - World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb had a 30.6sec lead over Finn Jari-Matti Latvala on Friday night after the first day of the Rally of Catalunya.
Loeb, aiming for a seventh consecutive Catalunya title, led off in his Citroen and was helped by the gravel dust hanging in the still morning air that hampered visibility for the rest of the field.
"I'm quite happy to be at the finish, especially after this one at night," Loeb said after several drivers struggled through the dust, flaring headlights making high speeds even more hazardous at night.
Latvala was only 5.3sec behind the Frenchman at halfway but lost time with a front right puncture in the afternoon.
He explained: "It's incredibly difficult to drive in the darkness with the dust. We spun first and after that there were massive rocks on the road that I couldn't avoid. I lost a lot of time."
Latvala's Ford team mate, Mikko Hirvonen, was 54.2sec behind in third. The Finnish driver questioned the wisdom of running a gravel stage in the dark, even after the rally organisers extended the start gap between cars from three to four minutes to allow the dust to settle.
"You couldn't see anything in some places, even a gap of four minutes was not enough.”
'WE WENT WIDE'
Loeb's French team mate Sebastien Ogier was 1min45.3 off the pace in fourth after a puncture on stage five.
"There was a lot of dust and we went a bit wide. It was difficult to get motivation after my puncture.”
Loeb, going for his eighth consecutive WRC title, was level with Hirvonen in the championship standings going into the penultimate rally of the season, three points ahead of Ogier.
Results after all six specials on Day 1 of the 2011 Rally of Catalunya on Friday
1 Sebastien Loeb (FRA) Citroen DS3 1hr44min06.3
2 Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) Ford Fiesta RS +30.6
3 Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) Ford Fiesta RS +54.2
4 Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Citroen DS3 +1min45.3
5 Dani Sordo (ESP) Mini John Cooper Works +2min02.7
6 Kris Meeke (GBR) Mini John Cooper Works +2min52.8
7 Mads Ostberg (NOR) Ford Fiesta RS +3min03.1
8 Henning Solberg (NOR) Ford Fiesta RS +3min11.6
9. Matthew Wilson (GBR) Ford Fiesta RS +5min16.8
Loeb 2 (1,6), Ogier 2 (2,3), Latvala 2 (4,5)