Huge crowds packed Strasbourg this evening to watch the world’s best rally drivers open Rallye de France with a spectacular new speed test through the streets outside the European Parliament.
Three laps covering 3.63km were a mere warm-up ahead of 404.14km of competition over the next three days, but they allowed Ford World Rally Team to make an early statement of intent for this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were second fastest in a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, just 0.8sec from top spot. Team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson tied for third in a similar Fiesta RS WRC, only 0.5sec behind their colleagues.
“I’m happy with that time, especially as I made a couple of tiny mistakes which probably cost a few tenths of a second,” said 27-year-old Latvala. “It’s always difficult to go directly into a stage from the start because there was no chance to warm up the tyres. It was hard to find the best feeling on cold rubber, but after a few corners the heat started to get into them and it felt better.”
Solberg, too, was happy with his efforts. “I just took it steady and avoided any mistakes,” said the 37-year-old Norwegian. “It was starting to get dark so it was tricky to see if the roads were damp or not after the afternoon rain. There were a few areas that were moist.”
The opening leg continues tomorrow when drivers head deep into the Vosges mountains for high altitude tests near Colmar. Two identical loops of three stages are split by a 15-minute service in Colmar, before the day ends with a test through the streets of Mulhouse. After starting at 07.45, competitors will cover 146.17km of action before returning to Strasbourg at 21.03.
Leaderboard after stage 1 of 22
1. T Neuville/N Gilsoul BEL Citroen DS3 2min 44.7sec
2. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Fiesta RS 2min 45.5sec
3= P Solberg/C Patterson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 2min 46.0sec
3= M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Citroen DS3 2min 46.0sec
3= D Sordo/C Del Barrio ESP Mini John Cooper 2min 46.0sec
6. S Chardonnet/T De La Haye FRA Citroen DS3 2min 46.1sec
7. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen DS3 2min 46.3sec
8. O Tänak/K Sikk EST Ford Fiesta RS 2min 47.2sec
9. E Novikov/I Minor RUS Ford Fiesta RS 2min 48.3sec
10 C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Mini John Cooper 2min 48.9sec
For more information:
Contact Mark Wilford or Russell Atkins at the Ford World Rally Team
media desk in Strasbourg Tel: + 33 3 88 16 50 96. Images available at www.worldrallypics.com/ford