Large crowds packed the centre of Trier last night as Germany’s oldest city launched this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship at the Roman gate of Porta Nigra. The action began in earnest this morning as competitors left the city for the first of two loops of three asphalt speed tests in the vineyards lining the Mosel river.
Bright sunshine and a stiff breeze ensured the roads had dried after last night’s rain. So BFGoodrich’s standard medium compound tyres were the choice of BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen for their Focus RS World Rally Cars.
The action began with the 19.79km Ruwertal / Fell special stage. Sebastien Loeb easily found his way to the first position and continued overtaking his team mate Sordo who got only the 3rd place.Francois Duval and his Citroen Xsara WRC placed on the 2nd place between the two Citroen C4 WRC cars.
Grönholm was seventh fastest, the 39-year-old Finn admitting he lacked confidence. He made a few changes to his Focus RS before the 23.03km Grafschaft Veldenz test and they transformed his performance. He was second and followed that with third on the 21.47km Schönes Moselland to return to service in Trier in fourth.
Peter Solberg placed his Subaru Impreza on the 5th place.Hirvonen also found the opening test difficult and was sixth quickest. He was fifth in Grafschaft Veldenz, despite stalling his car’s engine, and sixth through the final test to return to service in sixth. "It’s not a perfect start, but neither is it a disaster," said Hirvonen, who is feeling unwell with flu-like symptoms. "It was hard to find a rhythm in the first stage. I was driving like a beginner! I don’t have the confidence I need on asphalt when the roads are dry. It’s down to experience."
Gardemeister followed closely Hirvonen an placed on the 7th place. Kopecky driving his Skoda Fabia WRC was overtaken by Pons an got only the 9th place.J-M Latvala and Anttila closed the top 10 with their Ford Focus RS.
Abu Dhabi driver Khalid Al Qassimi and Nicky Beech, driving a WRC on asphalt for the first time on only their second outing with BP-Ford, are 17th. "I’m trying to be cautious. The key is to find the right braking point, especially as the roads are quite dirty by the time we start the stages. It’s easy to be caught out and I’ve spun on each test so far – three times on stage two!" explained Al Qassimi, who opted for the same rubber as his team-mates but with a small cut carved into the rubber.