Sébastien Ogier and Sébastien Loeb lead Rally Portugal

After the first four stages of Rally Portugal 2011, the two Citroën Total World Rally Team Citroën DS3 WRCs are in the first two places of the provisional overall classification. Sébastien Ogier leads Sébastien Loeb, and the first four are covered by only six seconds.

37 years after the last time Rally Portugal raced in Lisbon, the famous city hosted the first stage of the 2011 event yesterday evening. In front of a crowd of some 40 000 people (organizers’ figures), the Citroën DS3 WRCs began the rally on asphalt with a bit of wheel twirling! Sébastien Loeb finished the stage in second place in front of Sébastien Ogier and Petter Solberg.

This morning, 270 kilometers further south, things speeded up as the Michelin tyres started to eat up the Algarve gravel. In Santa Clara 1, the Citroën DS3 WRCs set the fastest time thanks to Petter Solberg. In Ourique 1 and Felizes 1, the two  Sébastiens took up the running.

After 67,84 timed kilometers, Ogier led Loeb by 2.8s, Mikko Hirvonen by 3.3s and Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.0s. Petter Solberg suffered a puncture and fell back to fifth, 55.8s in arrears.

“It’s early days yet in the rally but it’s gone well so far;” said Ogier on his return to the service park. “We began the day fairly cautiously before upping the pace. Overall, it was a good loop, but there’s still a long way to go.”

“Sweeping didn’t play a very important role in this loop” said Loeb in turn. “If it isn’t quite as clean as the other years, I think it’s still better to start after the others. The gaps are very small. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next!”
In their first gravel rally of the season, Kimi Räikkönen and Peter van Merksteijn Junior did not make any mistakes in the first loop, which they completed in eighth and sixteenth places respectively.

“They were my first stages in the WRC for quite some time,” recalled Van Merksteijn. “I needed to rack up the kilometers. Today, my sole aim is to get back in the groove. The car’s perfect. I just have to get used to it and find my marks, the braking points in particular. We’re not watching the clock. The important thing is to get track time under our belt.”

After thirty minutes’ service, the crews will set off for a second passage through the loop of three stages, some 64,57 timed kilometers. Return to the Estadio Algarve at 17h55.