OMV Peugeot Norway WRT with brains and grit
o Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor fortunate at drop-out-orgy in Australia
o Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud survive highspeed crash unhurt
o Mikko Hirvonen leads after an eventful first day
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.
Stohl plays out experience
Manfred Stohl has weathered out the first day of the Telstra Rally Australia. After eleven of 26 special stages the OMV driver is only 8,2 seconds behind a place on the podium. It still was the possibly hardest rally day this year for Stohl. Stohl: "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." On the last special stage of the day, the super stage in Perth, the 34-year-old OMV driver reached overall SS-best-time - his sixth this year.
Henning Solberg had a different vision of his premiere in Australia. The Norwegian OMV driver experienced a spectacular take-off on the sixth special stage and chopped down no less than ten trees. Fortunately, driver and co-driver remained uninjured and Solberg recounts: "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." In any case, the Peugeot 307 WRC was too heavily damaged. Therefore a restart within SupeRally on Saturday won't be possible.
Hirvonen grabs window of opportunity
Ford works driver Mikko Hirvonen can rejoice over his lead after leg one. The Finn fought off all attacks by Petter Solberg (Nor/Subaru), who had won in Australia in 2003. Hirvonen leads by 26,2 seconds. Xavi Pons (Spa/Citroen), who replaces World Champion Sebastien Loeb (Fra) in Australia, currently lies in third place. The turbulent course of events already commenced on the first special stage on Friday. Grönholm overturned, lost over ten minutes and Citroen works driver Dani Sordo (Spa) had to park his car due to a damaged gearbox. Stobart drivers Piloten Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc also were unable to finish the special stage. On SS 6 fate hit Henning Solberg and local hero Chris Atkinson (Subaru) who had been in the lead until then. Regarding the World Championship: thanks to the many retirements there is still a glimmer of hope for Grönholm. He would have to finish third at least. Tomorrow evening he could have reached fifth place. Then he would only miss two places on his last chance.