The Rally de España - which is the first 'real' asphalt event of the season - got underway with six stages today, split into two loops of three speed tests with service in between at Port Aventura, Europe's largest theme park, to the south of Barcelona. At the end of another challenging day, Toni Gardemeister has brought his SX4 WRC home in 17th overall. The Finn picked up a front-right puncture on the penultimate stage of the leg, which caused him to lose two and a half minutes. Nonetheless, he still has the chance to claim points over the two long days that remain in Spain. His team mate P-G Andersson unfortunately went off the road on the second special stage of the day, having set a top-10 time on SS1. His SX4 WRC was undamaged and he will re-start tomorrow under the super rally system, with a penalty of five minutes for every stage missed.

Today's six stages totalled 131 competitive kilometres and made up the longest leg of the rally, with cool temperatures in the morning becoming progressively warmer as the day went on. Consequently, the majority of drivers elected to use Pirelli's hard-compound asphalt tyres throughout the day. Thanks to a number of new stages for this year the drivers often found themselves on unfamiliar terrain, with this year's Spanish stages being slightly slower and twistier than they have been in the past. Gardemeister's SX4 WRC was entirely reliable throughout the day, to continue the consistently strong run that Suzuki has enjoyed from the middle of the season.

The drivers reported no problems with their SX4 WRCs throughout the day, although the slippery nature of the asphalt meant that Gardemeister suffered from a lack of grip during the morning's loop of stages. He made some suspension adjustments at service to try and soften the car in order to gain better traction, having experienced some understeer and a spin on the opening stage. The changes worked well, but then on the penultimate stage of the day Gardemeister picked up a front-right puncture.

Andersson had no problems on the opening stage, where he set 10th fastest time. Tomorrow he hopes to continue the task of adapting himself and the Suzuki SX4 WRC to the challenging asphalt stages of Spain.

Toni Gardemeister: "After I heard about P-G's off on the second stage, I just drove carefully to the end of the morning's loop of stages. During service at midday I made a few changes and the car definitely felt better but we didn't really get the chance to show it as we caught a puncture 10 kilometres into SS5. We continued to the end and then changed the wheel for the last stage, but we had already lost two and a half minutes."

Shusuke Inagaki, Suzuki World Rally Team Director: "Just as we expected, the opening day of the Rally de España has provided us with a big challenge, but I have to say that we were also a bit unlucky. A mistake with the pace notes is something that can happen, but it is a pity that this happened to P-G on only the second stage of the day and that there was a steep bank to prevent him from re-joining straight away. Toni had bad luck to pick up a puncture. Looking on the positive side, at least we end tonight with two cars that are intact and the chance still to drive two more challenging legs tomorrow and on Sunday."

Leaderboard after Day 1
1. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 1hr 10min 11.5sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 1hr 10min 27.3sec
3. F Duval/P Pivato BEL Ford Focus RS 1hr 10min 52.8sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 10min 55.6sec
5. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Subaru Impreza 1hr 11min 59.0sec
6. U Aava/K Sikk EST Citroen C4 1hr 12min 12.7sec
7. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 12min 15.9sec
8. C Atkinson/S Prévot AUS Subaru Impreza 1hr 12min 24.9sec
9. A Mikkelsen/O Floene NOR Ford Focus RS 1hr 12min 36.4sec
10 M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS 1hr 13min 53.6sec

Lyhyt esittely

Olen toisen sukupolven ralliautoilija. Vuonna 1975 synnyin moottoriurheiluperheeseen ja kasvoin pihapiirissä, joka oli ympäröity kilpa-ajoneuvoilla. Isäni autourheiluharrastus alkoi vuonna 1970 ja sen myötä vauhti on tullut ikään kuin perintönä.

Ammattilaisuran jälkeen Toni toimii mm. ajokouluttajana ja mentoroi uusia rallilupauksia sekä toimii Jari-Matti Latvalan etuautokuljettajana.

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