Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen delivered a solid performance at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 today to finish Rally Australia in fourth-place overall and match his career-best WRC result. Continuing to drive under the FIA re-start system, 2003 World Champion Petter Solberg won four of the day's six stages and once again demonstrated the speed and reliability of the Impreza on the unique and challenging road surface. Subaru also celebrated success as the driving force behind the winners of the FIA Production Cup series. After a thrilling finale on today's stages, Britain's Niall McShea clinched the World Production Cup Championship title in an Impreza WRX, while Japan's Toshi Arai, also driving a Subaru Impreza WRX, was second.
SS20: 0700 Flynns 2 (20.10km)
Setting out to claim a sixth annual WRC win, and share the
record held by rally legend Didier Auriol, Sebastien Loeb was fastest on
the first stage of the day. Re-starters Marcus Gronholm and Petter
Solberg were second and third quickest respectively, while Rovanpera was
fourth. As temperatures began to rise in the early morning, conditions
in the stage were dry and featured a mix of loose red gravel, sections
of exposed bedrock and forest roads littered with pine needles. Running
first on the road, Ford privateer Anthony Warmbold struggled with a
turbo problem and completed the test at a reduced pace with his
hazard-lights on. He dropped eight minutes to the leaders and tumbled
down the overall standings from fifth to fourteenth. Once the stage was
complete, crews moved to the start of SS21.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 11:37.5
SS21: 0733 Helena East 2 (22.29km)
Including a series of hidden crests, deceptive corners and
fifth-gear jumps, the last ten kilometres of the 22km narrow, undulating
test from Helena West was one of the most difficult sections of the
event. Loeb was fastest through the stage, with Solberg second and
Gronholm, who overshot a junction, third. Subaru's young Mikko Hirvonen
was fourth fastest, ahead of Duval and Rovanpera, to maintain the same
position overall. With no service scheduled between the two opening
stages, Warmbold continued to lose time with his Focus' broken turbo
and, by the finish, had lost another two places overall. Once the test
was complete, crews returned to Perth for a 20-minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 12:48.5
SS22: 1101 Bannister North Short (13.86km)
After a 105km road section from Perth, the remaining crews
embarked on the first of four stages contested in the famous Sotico tree
plantations. The first, the 13km stage from North Bannister, included 15
junctions and concluded with the stomach-churning Bunnings jumps and
water splash. Having stopped in the preceding road section to make
suspension adjustments, Solberg took the stage win while Gronholm, who
was using the opportunity to test his car's braking system, was second
fastest. Event leader Loeb was fifth fastest while Hirvonen, who was
running second on the road, struggled to find enough traction on the
loose, pebbly surface and was sixth. Privateer Warmbold continued to run
off the pace and dropped another two minutes to the leaders, while
Subaru Group N competitor Alistair McRae retired 3km from the start with
a gearbox problem. He had been on course to take the FIA Production Cup
title. Once the stage was complete, crews drove a short 0.32km section
to the start of SS23.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 7:15.7
SS23: 1129 Bannister Central 1 (17.97km)
Starting with a flat-out sixth-gear straight, the loose gravel
stage from Bannister concluded with a 3km twisty section. Thousands of
fans had turned out in the warm Australian sunshine to watch their
favourite drivers charge through the test and churn up clouds of red
dust as they reached speeds of up to 200kph. Setting an average speed of
115.46 kph, Solberg was fastest for another stage win, while Gronholm
was second and Rovanpera third. Hirvonen once again found himself
sweeping the loose gravel for those following and was fifth fastest.
After the finish, crews stopped for a 10-minute remote tyre-fitting
service in Sotico.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 9:20.3
SS24: 1242 Bannister North Long (35.64km)
There were nervous moments for the Peugeot team on the
penultimate stage when Marcus Gronholm rolled his Peugeot 307 off the
road and out of the rally. Leaving the stage five kilometres from the
start, the Finn's car was launched into the air and eventually came to
rest on its roof against a tree. Although Marcus and co-driver Timo
Rautiainen were able to get out of the car unaided, they were taken to
hospital for precautionary checks. Looking to the pacesetters, Solberg
was fastest, with event-leader Loeb second-quickest, Rovanpera was third
and Hirvonen fourth. A very fast, open stage, the last kilometre was
shared with @!SS22, meaning crews once again faced the famous Bunnings
jumps and water splash before the finish.
Fastest Stage Time:Solberg (Subaru) 18:39.6
SS25: 1330 Bannister Central 2 (17.97km)
Petter Solberg ended the 2004 WRC season with a victory on the
last special stage of the year to take his season total to 95, 25 more
than Marcus Gronholm with the second highest number. Citroen's Sebastien
Loeb was second on the stage to take the overall event win and claim his
sixth 2004 WRC victory - equalling Didier Auriol's 1992 achievement.
Rovanpera was third fastest to take overall second place, while Duval
was fifth fastest to secure the final podium position. After a solid
performance aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004, Mikko Hirvonen was fourth
quickest and matched his WRC career-best finish of fourth overall.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 9:12.7
Once we went out of the rally and weren't able to win, our objectives changed and we concentrated on testing, as well as having a bit of fun on the stages. I must say, the roads are fantastic, they're very tricky but you get such a good feeling when everything works well. We've learned a lot that will help us in the future - on the long road section back to final service Phil spent the whole trip noting down all the things we had worked on and how they performed. For sure it's good to get second place in the Championship, but the only reason we do this is to win and we're already working hard to be ready for January when we start all over again.
I was aiming to finish the season with a podium result, but although I just missed out on that, I'm still quite happy with fourth. I haven't had the best road position for this event and that certainly made things difficult, but it also helped me learn how best to control the car on this very loose surface. I think you need at least three of four attempts here to find the top speed, especially through the narrow forest stages. But I've learned a lot for the future, it's one of the best rallies in the season and I'm looking forward to coming back.
Team Principal, David Lapworth
It's been another useful day for the team. With four wins from six stages, Petter has shown the speed and reliability of the Subaru package once again and with a total of 95 stage wins this season, we know the performance is there. The opportunity for Petter to restart the rally on Legs one and two and test different aspects of the car set-up has been very helpful for our development programme. Although it's a shame we weren't able to finish this season on a high with a sixth win, it's good to see that Mikko's consistent efforts were rewarded with a fine fourth place.
, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
It's been a positive end to the season in Australia where we have once again demonstrated the superiority of Pirelli's PZero gravel tyres. This allows us to look forward to the 2005 season, which once more includes 11 gravel rallies, with a great deal of optimism. As well as victory on individual events, we will be targeting the 2005 World Championship.