WRC World Champion Loeb holds solid lead after leg one of Corona Rally Mexico

Corona Rally Mexico
FIA World Rally Championship, round 4 of 16

For inmmediate release
Friday, March 9th, 2007


Third and fourth places for Finland’s Hirvonen and Spain’s Sordo;
Oil leak costs Subaru’s Petter Solberg potential overall lead;
Britain’s Mark Higgins leads PWRC category after tense opening leg

Defending World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena led Corona Rally México, round four of the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship, after the opening leg’s eight timed special stages around León on Friday.

Loeb hit the front on stage six, the last of the day’s gravel special stages at altitude, when early leader Petter Solberg was forced out with an oil leak on his new Subaru Impreza WRC 2007. Australia’s Chris Atkinson was delighted with the performance of the new Subaru to hold second place, while Rally Norway winner Mikko Hirvonen was a close third.

“It was a good start,” said Loeb. “It was very difficult on the first loop to keep in contact with (Petter) Solberg, who was very fast. Then, on the second loop I had a good fight with him before his troubles. For me, I am really happy that our car was competitive and we are able to fight for the first place on gravel. That is important for the future.”

Atkinson was also upbeat: “Today was good for the whole team. Unfortunately for Petter he had a problem, but the speed was there for all to see. He was leading and I was third. It’s nice to be in that position, compared to where we were last year. We will have to see. We are working on the set-up on every stage. If we can improve it, maybe we can hold our position.”

Norway’s Petter Solberg was on the pace from the outset on the debut of the new Subaru. He and Atkinson set the first and third fastest times in SS1 and benefited from cleaner stage surfaces over the opening loop.

Solberg won all three specials and held a 7.7s overall lead after SS3, from defending world champion Loeb. The Frenchman’s Citroën team mate Dani Sordo was fourth, behind Atkinson, on the gravel debut for the C4 WRC and he maintained this position at the end of the leg.

Both Marcus Grönholm and Mikko Hirvonen had suffered the disadvantage of sweeping the loose gravel over the opening three stages in their BP Fords and were pleasantly surprised to complete the opening leg in fifth and third positions.

Loeb closed the gap on Solberg to 4.4s by winning the fourth stage and Austria’s Manfred Stohl set the fastest time in SS5, although Loeb and Hirvonen finished on the same second. Petter Solberg was fifth and maintained an overall advantage of just 2.1s over the World Champion, but the Norwegian was concerned about an oil leak that he noticed at the end of the special.

Loeb set his second fastest time of the day in SS6 to move into the overall lead. He beat Sordo by 2.2s to hold an advantage of 27.0s over Atkinson. Hirvonen was a mere 0.4s further behind, but early leader Solberg’s worst fears were realised when he was unable to continue. The bitterly disappointed former World Champion and co-driver Philip Mills managed to hitch a lift back to the service park with two French journalists.

Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala and Matthew Wilson were seventh and eighth overall in a pair of Ford Focus RS WRC 2006s, behind Grönholm and Stohl after eight special stages.

Norwegian Henning Solberg rolled his Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Focus and lost three minutes in the first stage and slipped out of the top 10, while Munchi's Ford World Rally Team driver Luis-Perez Companc damaged his suspension and was forced out of the leg on the first stage.

The high altitude played havoc with the power output of the 47-strong field, although accidents cost Mexican drivers Francisco Name and Rodrigo Salgado their places in the results.

Britain’s Mark Higgins drew first blood in the PWRC contest and maintained a slender overall advantage over Mirco Baldacci after three stages, with stage three winner Toshi Arai in third. Qatar’s defending champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah rolled out of contention in the second stage and badly damaged his Subaru Impreza WRX STi. He headed straight off to the Sultanate of Oman to begin preparations for next week’s Middle East encounter.

Higgins extended his overall PWRC lead to just 5.9s by setting the fastest time in SS5. Closest rivals Baldacci and Arai were second and third and maintained similar positions in the overall standings, but Kristian Sohlberg suffered a puncture.

San Marino’s Baldacci clawed a mere 0.8s back on Higgins by setting the fastest time in SS6, as he headed for the super special stages, 5.1s behind the Manxman. Japan’s Fumio Nutahara was third quickest, although Toshi Arai maintained third overall, albeit 1m 20.4s behind. Higgins maintained his overall lead at the end of the day.

Tomorrow (Saturday) there will be a further eight timed special stages, with competitive action getting underway with the 30.2km Ibarilla stage at 08.19hrs. The 2.21km super special stage will again be repeated twice at the end of the day. The event is due to reach a conclusion at 13.00hrs on Sunday afternoon.

Positions after leg 1:
1. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) Citroën C4 WRC 1h 25m 14.4s
2. Chris Atkinson (AUS)/Glenn MacNeall (AUS) Subaru Impreza 1h 25m 40.7s
3. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus 1h 25m 44.5s
4. Dani Sordo (E)/Marc Marti (E) Citroën C4 WRC 1h 25m 46.5s
5. Marcus Grönholm (FIN)/Timo Rautianen (FIN) Ford Focus 1h 25m 57.5s
6. Manfred Stohl (A)/Ilka Minor (A) Citroën Xsara WRC 1h 26m 06.1s
7. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus 1h 26m 52.2s
8. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Michael Orr (GB) Ford Focus 1h 29m 47.2s, etc

For further media information: Corona Rally Mexico Media Centre
Tel: (477) 784 9388, Email: media@rallymexico.com, www.rallymexico.com

Date issued: 09/03/2007

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