Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg holds the overnight lead of Rally Australia tonight after a trouble-free run on the first Leg of the competition. He set top five times throughout the day and won three stages. With two days of the rally remaining Solberg lies more than 45secs ahead of second-placed François Duval. In front of his home crowd Subaru's young gun Chris Atkinson showed his star potential by taking four stage wins and taking the lead of the event in the morning. Unfortunately Chris's run of success was interrupted by a damaged steering arm on SS6 but with his car back to full strength he mounted a spirited recovery on the latter stages and is looking to make more progress back up the leaderboard over the coming days.
SS1 / SS2 1813hrs, Thursday 10 November Perth City Super 1 & 2 (2.35km)
The final round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship started
in style at the Perth City Superspecial in Gloucester Park on the bank
of the Swan River. The figure-of-eight track was built in a horse
trotting arena and featured a table-top jump, narrow tunnel and a series
of sweeping corners. Crews were paired side-by-side and completed two
laps of the 2.3km course before switching lanes for the repeat run.
Subaru's Petter Solberg started his campaign for second place in the
drivers' championship by taking the first stage win of the event as he
raced head-to-head with this year's Drivers' Champion Sébastien Loeb. On
the second pass Solberg set the joint third fastest time to hold the
overnight lead of the rally, 0.2secs ahead of Marcus Gronholm. Citroen
drivers François Duval and Loeb finished the night in third and fourth
positions, with Mitsubishi pilot Harri Rovanpera completing the top
five. Chris Atkinson received loud applause in the first stages of his
home event as he ended the day in sixth place overall. After the stage
finish spectators were treated to a spectacular fireworks display to
mark the start of Rally Australia.
Fastest Stage Time: SS1: Solberg (Subaru) 1:33.3 / SS2: Gronholm (Peugeot) 1:32.9
SS3 0923hrs, Friday 11 November Murray North 1 (15.92km)
After two passes through the Perth Superspecial on Thursday
night, Rally Australia started in earnest with the forest stages 100km
to the south of the service park near the town of Dwellingup. Australian
Chris Atkinson negotiated the tricky, high speed 16km stage just under a
second faster than Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg. Chris' stage win,
the seventh of his career, moved him into second position overall ahead
of Peugeot's Gronholm. The stage was stopped after Gronholm's team-mate
Daniel Carlsson went off the road 2km from the start and hit a tree.
Carlsson and co-driver Matthias Andersson were uninjured in the crash
but a fire in the wreckage of the 407WRC ignited the surrounding bush
and the stage was stopped for 30-minutes until emergency crews had
brought the blaze under control. Ford drivers Roman Kresta and Toni
Gardemeister each started the second day of Leg one with 30secs of
penalty time after stewards penalised them for using fresh engines in
their brand new 2006 spec Focus WRC's. All the other WRC competitors
were using engines previously used in Rally Japan.
Fastest Stage Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 8:48.1
SS4 0956hrs Murray South 1 (20.12km)
Stage four started in the same forest as Murray North, although
was much more open than the previous test, with fewer trees close to the
road. Running 10thon the road, Atkinson notched up his second
consecutive stage win, over 10secs faster than World Champion Loeb and
Colin McRae who was in Australia for his second WRC drive of the year
with Skoda. In front of his home crowd, Atkinson's time moved him into
the overall lead of the rally. Solberg and Gronholm continued their
closely-matched battle for second position in the drivers' championship,
with the Finn coming through the speed test just under half a second
faster than the Subaru driver. Gigi Galli lost over 14secs to Atkinson
through the pass as he reported an intermittent engine misfire with his
Fastest Stage Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 11:27.8
SS5 1046hrs Turner Hill (5.35km)
This speed test was last used as part of the event in 2003, but
was shortened for this year's rally and featured a very fast start and
finish with tricky junctions in the mid-section. Subaru continued to
monopolise stage victories as Petter Solberg took his second win of the
event with Chris Atkinson second to retain the overall lead of the rally
ahead of Solberg and Gronholm. Roman Kresta was fourth fastest in his
new Focus, with Citroen privateer Manfred Stohl fifth. After the stage
finish crews headed to Dwellingup for a 20 minute regroup.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 3:10.9
SS6 1202hrs Murray North 2 (15.92km)
The start of the repeat of the Murray North stage was slightly
delayed as organisers sought to make up the time lost in SS3 following
Daniel Carlsson's accident. There was disappointment for Subaru's young
charger Chris Atkinson after his excellent morning performance when a
damaged steering arm made his car impossible to steer accurately and he
was forced to slow accordingly. He finished 40secs slower than stage
winner Solberg and dropped to sixth overall. Privateer Antony Warmbold
also had a difficult stage when he rolled his Ford 5km from the start
and retired from the Leg. Loeb moved into second overall from fourth,
ahead of Gronholm, who finished the test over six seconds slower than
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 8:37.3
SS7 1247hrs Murray South 2 (20.12km)
After stopping on the road section between SS6 and SS7 to
investigate the steering problems on his Subaru Impreza, Chris Atkinson
started the stage on time, but again his progress was hampered by the
damage and keeping his speed at a safe maximum he dropped nearly two
minutes to the leaders. Marcus Gronholm also lost time on SS7, his
Peugeot 307 developed broken suspension when it hit a rut in SS6 and he
dropped more than one minute to Loeb. Gronholm's misfortune was McRae's
gain as he moved into third overall as Solberg continued to lead the
rally by six seconds from Loeb. After the stage end crews started the
112km journey back to Perth for a 30 minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 11:15.7
SS8 1641hrs Beraking 1 (23.03km)
There was incident for some crews even before their arrival in
service. Marcus Gronholm's broken suspension attracted the attention of
the local police as he attempted to get back to Langley Park. The car
was not thought to be road-worthy and Gronholm was stopped on safety
grounds. He retired from the Leg and the rally. Chris Atkinson's Subaru
was back on the pace after his service crew replaced its damaged
steering arm in service and he passed through the speed test just
0.1secs slower than Loeb, who took his second win of the day. The
Citroen driver's time moved him ahead of Solberg into the overall lead.
Further down the top ten Kresta dropped down to ninth from seventh after
overshooting a junction and losing nearly 40secs as he struggled to
rejoin the road.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 12:55.5
SS9 1727hrs Flynns 1 (19.87km)
The 20km Flynns stage east of Perth was used last year but in
the opposite direction and featured a much sandier surface than the
other stages. The road passed through open farmland towards the end with
several rocks on the side of the road. There was drama for Citroen
driver Loeb as his car left the road and hit a tree. Both Loeb and
co-driver Elena were unharmed but their car was too badly damaged for
them to continue. Chris Atkinson continued his day's storming pace with
his third win of the day to graduate back into the top ten, while Petter
Solberg finished just over four seconds slower than his Australian
team-mate. The retirement of Loeb and Gronholm gave Solberg an overall
lead of more than 45secs from second-placed Colin McRae and Duval and
Harri Rovanpera were both elevated to third and fourth respectively.
Fastest Stage Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 11:58.2
SS10 / SS11 1915hrs Perth City Super 3 and 4 (2.35km)
After the final forest stage crews returned to Perth for a
second run through the slippery gravel Superspecial. An estimated 5,000
spectators once more saw crews go head-to-head to complete two sets of
two laps, with each pair of laps constituting one stage. Chris Atkinson
scored his first ever Superspecial win in SS10 ahead of Solberg and
Rovanpera. The Finn later set the fastest time in the second run,
marginally quicker than Duval. The Belgian driver's times moved him
ahead of McRae in the overall standings into second.
Fastest Stage Time: SS10: Atkinson (Subaru) 1:35.6 / SS11: Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) 1:35.0
Subaru World Rally Technical Director, David Lapworth
Chris got off to a great start and more than fulfilled the expectations of his Australian supporters and the team by setting fastest stage times and taking the lead of the rally. It seems he was very unlucky with the bent steering but he seems to have got over it quickly and has continued to set a cracking pace. It's going to be difficult for him to regain one of the podium places but he still has a chance to show what might have been and his potential for the future. Petter's obviously had a great day as well, his confidence before the rally seems justified and he is content with his pace - even before Sébastien's retirement. Now the only real pressure on him is to continue to have a clean run over the next two days.
It's been great fun out there today, better than I expected actually, the car and tyres have been perfect and I'm really enjoying myself. In Japan we saw how much of a step we'd made on gravel and today it's felt good to be fighting for the lead again - that's what we're here for. Running second on the road today there was lots of loose gravel about and it was extremely slippery and easy to make a mistake and spin. We pushed where we could, but the main objective was to get through cleanly and get a better road position for tomorrow's Leg. We've done that now and I think we'll be able to enjoy ourselves over the next couple of days!
We've certainly had some highs and some lows today. Things started perfectly, the car felt just right and Glenn and I were feeling pretty happy at the regroup after SS5, but on the next stage all the good work was undone by the damaged steering arm. It was especially disappointing in front of a home crowd, but there wasn't anything Glenn or I could do to fix it before service. Since then we've been right back on the pace and I'm determined to make as much of the next couple of days as I can. We've seen today that a lot can happen on these roads, they're great fun to drive but they always seem to bring a few surprises, so who knows what place we can get back to? We're back up to 100 percent and the car seems to suit the conditions perfectly, we'll do the best we can.
News From Pirelli
Terenzio Testoni, Pirelli Tyre Engineer
We are very happy with the performance of our tyres today, particularly on the repeated stages where they have been extremely strong. Petter and Chris have dominated stage times, resulting in the overnight lead for Petter. We feel very sorry for Chris - without his problems it could have been a one-two. Tomorrow will be just as tough as today and our aim is to give Petter the equipment and information to consolidate his well-deserved lead.
Leg two of Rally Australia features nine stages and 122.34 competitive kilometres to the south east of Perth. The morning Bannister stages are run through a privately owned pine plantation and on routes made for logging and, as a result, are very soft and well-known for rutting quite quickly. The main features of the stages are the famous Bunnings jumps and water splash at the finish. After a service in Perth crews return to the Beraking and Flynns stage to the east of Perth before two runs through the Superspecial in the evening.