Rally de Espana got underway today with free practice and the qualifying stage. After setting the fastest time in qualifying, Sébastien Loeb was able to choose his starting position first for day one of the rally.
As the rally is due to begin with a day on gravel, the shakedown was also contested on this surface. Held on roads close to the Salou service park, the 2.94km stage was covered three times in the morning.
Second after the two runs in free practice, Sébastien Loeb went on to set the fastest time in qualifying. “That wasn’t really what I was aiming for,” explained the nine-time World Champion*. “Finishing second or third would have enabled me to align my strategy with those of the others. Although the titles are no longer up for grabs, I’m just the same as all my rivals: I want to finish the season with a win! I’m expecting the first day to be very complicated, so we’ll have to push from the word go.”
As the weather in Catalonia is forecast to be rather mild on Friday, Seb opted to start as far back as possible: he will therefore start from 14th position. The other competitors followed suit. Third in qualifying, Mikko Hirvonen chose to run in 12th position: “I felt good in the car this morning. I also think that the first day will be difficult. I am a little wary of the gravel stages which have tarmac sections in them that are several kilometres long. In actual fact, I can’t wait for Saturday to come around and be racing just on tarmac.”
Third in free practice and then sixth in qualifying, Thierry Neuville will start from ninth position: “This is the first time that I’ll be competing in an event where we’ll be completely changing the configuration of the car between two legs. I fear that I might find it a little difficult, but it’s a new experience, which will undoubtedly be good to have. I feel relaxed after we did some good work in recce.”
For this first rally in a Citroën DS3 WRC, Hans Weijs Jr. finished eleventh in qualifying. The Dutch driver will start the first leg from fourth position on the road.
* Subject to publication of the official results by the FIA