WRC

Rally Australia: Leg one summary

Chris Atkinson (Subaru) led all morning until his car slid off-line and became beached in soft sand on stage 6. The hot exhaust ignited undergrowth beneath Atkinson's car and a small fire broke out which was quickly extinguished with the help of...

Chris Atkinson (Subaru) led all morning until his car slid off-line and became beached in soft sand on stage 6. The hot exhaust ignited undergrowth beneath Atkinson's car and a small fire broke out which was quickly extinguished with the help of following competitors. Team-mate Petter Solberg moved ahead, and remained in front until severe hanging dust on the final country stage cost almost 30sec and he lies second. Xevi Pons (Citroen) holds third, ahead of Manfred Stohl (Peugeot), who complained of oversteer throughout the morning. The list of retirements was large. Dani Sordo (Citroen) stopped on the opening stage this morning with broken transmission while Matthew Wilson (Ford) hit the same rock as Grönholm and broke a steering arm. Luis Perez Companc (Ford) rolled on the following stage and Henning Solberg (Peugeot) also went off on stage 6.

Leg two is based largely on the forest roads south east of Perth and features nine more stages and 120 competitive kilometres. The morning stages take place on the logging roads of the Banister pine plantation and include the famous 'Bunnings' jumps and water splash. After a service in Perth, crews return to the Beraking and Flynns stages in the afternoon before two final circuits around the city Superspecial in the evening.

Kronos Total Citroen

Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio have held their own throughout an extremely difficult opening leg. The Spanish Kronos Total Citroen crew are in a provisional third place overall : a position they hope to defend to the end of the rally. The drivers knew that they were starting the leg with the most difficult stages of the day : two runs each through Murray North and South. The pitfalls are well-known, but the Murray stages still claimed several highprofile victims, slashing the World Rally Car field. The only driver who stopped on these stages through no fault of his own was Dani Sordo, who was forced onto the sidelines with a gearbox problem. Dani could only sit and watch as he clocked up a penalty of five minutes for every stage missed, in accordance with the superally rules. This means that he will start leg two with a 40 minute gap to the leader, in the hope of making up enough ground to score some manufacturer points.

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio managed to find the right rhythm to survive this difficult day, without succumbing to the temptation to push too hard. " I think we can be happy, " said the Spaniard. " With a perfect Xsara and the right tyre choice [BFGoodrich medium/soft compound] I forced myself to stay concentrated and follow the right line. It might not be the most fun way to drive, but it's essential in order to stay off the 'marbles'. Everything was going well until the final forest stage, Flynns. There, with the sunset in our eyes, we lost a lot of time in the dust from the cars ahead. In some sections we were driving blind. "In any case we are still third, » concluded Xevi. « Tomorrow's stages in he Bunnings complex are wider - so they are easier and a lot more fun to rive. I'm going to try to stick to the pace we had today and avoid making istakes. I had a good feeling after Cyprus and my confidence grew even ore after the Rally of Turkey. Thanks to all that, I hope to carry tonight's bjective through to the end of the rally: holding onto third place. »

Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: Retired

OMV-Peugeot Norway

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team has completed the first day of the "Telstra Rally Australia". While Manfred Stohl can be content, Henning Solberg's first Australia adventure ended with a take-off at high speed on special stage six. A restart within SupeRally will not be possible since the Peugeot 307 WRC is too heavily damaged. The retirement quota at the World Rally Cars is singular this season. Five of ten teams already had to give up on the first day. And top favourite Marcus Grönholm lost over ten minutes following a rollover on special stage one.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "Since it hasn't rained recently it is extremely fast and insanely slippery. I surely was beside the road more often today than during the last five rallies altogether. If I take a look at the course of events I get convinced that I chose the right tempo. And there is still a lot going to happen at this rally."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "We got off the ideal line during a very fast left turn which you drive at full speed. At such a moment you don't stand a chance on this loose gravel. We took off right into the woods. I don't even remember whether I turned over."

BP-Ford

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lead Rally Australia tonight after an extraordinary opening leg. The Finns are 26.2sec clear in their Ford Focus RS World Rally car after a day in which the treacherously slippery gravel tracks of Western Australia took a heavy toll on their rivals. Team-mates Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen fell foul of the conditions and dropped 11 minutes after rolling their Focus RS. They are 18th. It is the first time that 26-year-old Hirvonen and 37-year-old Lehtinen have led a round of the FIA World Rally Championship at the end of a leg.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: Grönholm and Rautiainen led last night but their advantage was short-lived. Just 5km after the start of the day's opening 15.92km Murray North test, the Finns rolled their Focus RS. "I hit a stone on the inside of a second gear right bend and the impact threw the car across the road and I rolled over the bank on the opposite side," said 38-year-old Grönholm. "The car rolled once, it was slow and soft, and ended on its roof. We pushed it back onto its wheels with the help of two or three people but then it became stuck on a tree stump so we had to jack it up to get out. We were stuck for more than 10 minutes. I made a stupid mistake." Although the Focus RS did not suffer serious mechanical damage, the accident cracked the windscreen and broke both side windows. Although the crew taped them up as best they could, it was impossible to prevent choking brown dust from infiltrating the cockpit and they had to tackle another 70km of competition before returning to service in Perth for repairs. "It was hell inside. We had so much dust in there that I couldn't breathe or see. My eyes hurt now and I also hurt my back trying to push the car over," added Grönholm. The team changed the transmission assembly and replaced battered body panels and the Finn then posted fastest time over three of the final four stages. Having dropped to 56th, following the crash, he recovered to 18th. "I wasn't so fast this afternoon but the others were hindered by dust. I'm an old motocross rider so I'm used to it. I'm disappointed because we had the opportunity to lead comfortably and I think it will be a few years before I forget this. A top five finish is possible and that's my aim," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "I made no mistakes and had no problems and that's why I'm leading, but it has been a strange day because I didn't set any fastest times," said Hirvonen. "Winning is a possibility but I need to find a balance between fighting for first place and finishing. There are no words to describe how slippery this gravel is. It was just like driving on ice. But there is no room for error now that Marcus has lost time and the pressure is on because I must score good points for the team. "We were lucky in the dust on the last forest stage. It was hanging in the air and I had to stop near the finish. I came over a crest and it was like hitting a wall of dust. Tomorrow will be easier because we will not be cleaning the road but I know Petter and he will not give up. There are still two days to go but it is a good feeling to be leading," added Hirvonen.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford

The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team mechanics came into their own after Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc hit early problems on the opening leg of Rally Australia in Perth today. The Cumbrian-based outfit refettled both Ford Focus RS WRC 06s in record time to ensure Wilson and Companc would be ready to start leg two after their early departures on today's opening leg. The rally officially started last night, with a brace of runs around the two-kilometre Gloucester Park trotting track. Companc/Jose Maria Volta and Wilson/Michael Orr both held comfortable top 10 positions after the second stage, with the Argentine crew returning to the driving seat of their Ford Focus RS WRC 06 in sixth position this morning.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "This was driver error, pure and simple. It was quite a deceptive place that caught us out - not somewhere we had marked in the notes. It was a slow right-hand corner with a rock on the inside. The rock wasn't big and we hadn't seen it in the recce. We came through the corner in the sunshine and there it was - you could see it clearly. I was committed to the corner by then, though. We clipped it on full lock and the impact pulled the driveshaft out and broke the track control arm. The impact also spun the car through 360 degrees. That was the end of that. It's so disappointing. I was just starting to get into a good rhythm. We'd had a bit of an overshoot earlier in the stage, but after that things were starting to click and I was getting a bit more used to the surface. The car felt fantastic. It's so frustrating to be standing on the sidelines when we could and should be out on the stages."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "The conditions in stage four were so difficult. Before we went off, I had already had two moments. I left the road after running wide in a left-hander. I hit a rock on the outside of the corner with a rear wheel and that sent us across the road and down a bank on the other side. The car dropped onto the drivers' side and came to rest against a tree. There was really not much damage to the car at all. The big problem was that there were only a couple of spectators around to help, so there was no chance of getting it back onto the track. Now I really understand why people talk about this rally being so difficult - the conditions are incredible. We're back tomorrow, which is good. I like the Saturday stages more, so I will try to push hard. At the same time, running third on the road is going to be tough as we will be sweeping all of the loose gravel aside for the cars coming along behind us."

Subaru

Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg holds second place overall at the end of a dramatic first day of competition on Rally Australia. Solberg and his team-mate Chris Atkinson were the pace-setters for much of the day and between them won five of the Leg's seven forest stages in their Impreza WRC2006s. Australian-born Atkinson won the first three tests of the day and had a 13sec lead of the rally before a small mistake left his car undamaged but stuck in deep sand by the roadside. Atkinson retired from the Leg but will restart on Saturday. Solberg was fastest on two stages and led the rally overall before losing a place in controversial circumstances when he was caught in the dust of cars ahead.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Today was mostly a good day. Early on we made some changes and won two stages then there were more improvements again after the service. We lost a lot of time in the dust on both of the last two forest stages; turning the wrong way on the first and having to stop again and again on the second. It was just so bad we could not see what we were doing. Overall though I am quite happy with the position, we made some good tyre choices, the Pirellis worked very well and we're looking forward to still more improvements tomorrow."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: It was obviously a disappointing end to the day. We were trying hard for the whole team here and were leading but unfortunately made just a small mistake and that's it - we're out for the day. We went a little wide on one corner and didn't recover for the next. We slid to a stop on a bank partly off the road. We tried to reverse, but we couldn't and that was that. The car's pretty much fine, there was a small fire, but we got it out with little damage and we hadn't hit anything. We'll probably restart tomorrow but we've still blown our chances of a podium or a win."

-credit: www.rallye-newsletter.com

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Timo Rautiainen , Manfred Stohl , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Jarmo Lehtinen , Henning Solberg , Cato Menkerud , Ilka Minor , Matthew Wilson , Michael Orr , Chris Atkinson , Jose Maria Volta
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport