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Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 16:43 UK

Rally GB diary - Friday

Gareth Rhys Jones
By Gareth Rhys Owen
BBC Sport Wales at the GB Rally

First-day leader Sebastien Loeb powers through the water trap at Sweet Lamb
First-day leader Sebastien Loeb powers through the water trap at Sweet Lamb

In 2008 it was snow.

This year fog has been the driver's enemy.

The treacherous conditions of the mid-Wales forest made for a tricky first morning for the 62 starters of Rally GB 2009.

The Sweet Lamb stage may be one of the shortest open-road stages on the circuit.

But a damp, slippery road can be a frustrating place even if it's only three miles long.

606: DEBATE

Defending champion Sebastien Loeb moaned that it was "tough", Championship leader Mikko Hirvonen expressed regret at being "too careful" and Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach suffering a bout of homesickness asked for "sun and dust"!

Many of the well-weathered journalists in the media centre also complained about the Welsh climate.

This was especially true of the hacks who had spent the previous leg of the championship lording it on the Spanish beaches of the Costa Daurada.

All of which begs the question: What were they expecting?

Loeb and Hirvonen know that one slip could end their title dreams, but neither can afford to take their foot off the pedal

There's a reason why fewer tourists visit Builth Wells and Llanidloes than Spain on winter sun breaks, and it's not the price of accommodation.

The drivers may moan about the weather when a camera is thrust in their face seconds after lifting the hand-break at the end of a stage.

But it's those wet, windy, misty conditions that make the rally such a unique event.

With just a point separating title challengers Loeb and Hirvonen the organisers would have been praying that both men survived the first day unscathed.

And boy did they do that: First and second on the road with a measly 5.3 second advantage for Loeb as he aims for a sixth successive world championship.

Petter Solberg and his Welsh co-driver Phil Mills are looking for a record fifth Rally GB, and at 40 seconds adrift they're still in touch.

Mikko Hirvonen
Mikko Hirvonen is one point ahead in the standings

British contender Matthew Wilson can still hope for a top spot as he lies in seventh over three minutes and 20 seconds back.

But from here on in it won't be the hopes of the also-rans or the uncertain future of the rally that will grab the headlines.

Both Loeb and Hirvonen know that one slip could end their title dreams, but neither can afford to take their foot off the pedal.

Whoever finishes in front of the other will be crowned world champion.

A simple equation: Sport at its best.

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see also
Wales' sporting weekend in photos
22 Oct 09 |  Wales
Rally GB diary
22 Oct 09 |  Rallying
British rally Welsh venue doubt
22 Oct 09 |  Rallying
Rally threat after 2m grant axed
15 Apr 09 |  Wales
Rally star's 50,000 car stolen
17 Feb 09 |  Mid Wales
Rally star's hope after car taken
29 Aug 08 |  Mid Wales
Loeb triumphs in Wales Rally GB
07 Dec 08 |  Rallying
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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