WRC

Rally Australia: Subaru leg one summary

Leg one began on Thursday evening with two circuits of the Perth City Superspecial. On Friday crews tackled seven stages in the countryside to the south of Perth, before returning to the city for another night-time visit to the ...

Leg one began on Thursday evening with two circuits of the Perth City Superspecial. On Friday crews tackled seven stages in the countryside to the south of Perth, before returning to the city for another night-time visit to the Superspecial.

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.

Stage Summaries

SS1: 1912 (THURS) PERTH CITY SUPER 1 (2.00KM)

Rally Australia 2006 kicked off on Thursday night at the Perth City Superspecial in Gloucester Park. The two kilometre figure-of-eight gravel track, more typically used for the sport of horse-trotting, featured a jump, tunnel and a tricky mix of tight and sweeping bends. Two cars raced each other side-by-side for two laps before a lane change and a further two laps. On the first pass, run as SS1, Ford's Marcus Gronhoelm was quickest with a time of 1m 21.1s. Subaru's Petter Solberg was next fastest, 0.9sec back, while his team-mate Chris Atkinson was seventh with a time of 1m 23.2s.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 1:21.1

SS2: 1923 (THURS) PERTH CITY SUPER 2 (2.00KM)

Gronholm was quickest again on the second pass, run as SS2, to hold a slim overnight lead of 1.9sec from his Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen. Petter Solberg, who was third fastest, ended the day in third place, just 2.1sec off the lead. After two fantastic battles with Henning Solberg that thrilled the 10,000 spectators, local favourite Chris Atkinson finished the day just 4.6sec off the overall lead.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 1:20.7

SS3: 0923 MURRAY NORTH 1 (15.92KM)

The proper' Rally Australia stage action started on Friday morning on the forest roads near Dwellingup, 100km south of Perth. Straight away the red-earth roads, and their covering of loose ball-bearing gravel, brought dramatic developments to the top ten. In perfect dry and bright conditions, overnight leader Marcus Gronholm was the first to hit trouble when, 5km from the start, his car collided with a rock and rolled off the road. Despite broken side windows, a malfunctioning gearbox and some bent bodywork, the Finn managed to complete the stage but the incident cost him almost 11 minutes. Citroen's points nominated driver Danni Sordo retired from the Leg when his Xsara stopped mid-stage with a gearbox problem. Matthew Wilson was another driver in difficulty; he retired after hitting a rock and breaking a front-right driveshaft and track-control arm. The biggest winners on the stage were the two Subarus; Chris Atkinson set the fastest time, with his team-mate Petter Solberg next quickest, 3sec back. The results moved Atkinson into the overall lead and Solberg up to second ahead of Ford's Mikko Hirvonen.
Fastest Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 8:55.4

SS4: 0956 MURRAY SOUTH 1 (20.12KM)

Staying in the Murray Forests, Chris Atkinson was fastest on the second stage of the day and opened up a 9sec rally lead. Mikko Hirvonen was second fastest, despite running first on the road after Gronholm's roll and encountering the worst of the loose gravel. Petter Solberg was third fastest through the 20km section and, like many others, reported the bone-dry gravel was particularly slippery and that grip levels were varied and unpredictable. Argentinean privateer Luis Perez Companc's day came to an end when his Ford Focus slid off the road, rolled over and came to rest against a tree.
Fastest Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 11:34.9

SS5: 1036 HOLYOAKE (3.13KM)

Atkinson was quickest again on Holyoake; the short sprint stage new for 2006. Second fastest was Atkinson's team-mate Petter Solberg, who said he had some ideas about how to improve his car's traction on the forthcoming stages. Gronholm was third in his battered Ford but had an uncomfortable drive with clouds of dust from the broken side windows swirling around the cockpit.
Fastest Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 1:53.4

SS6: 1149 MURRAY NORTH 2 (15.92KM)

After a refuelling stop, crews returned to the Murray forest for a second pass through the 15km north section. As before, the slippery conditions brought all sorts of problems for the WRC competitors, but the biggest upset was the retirement of rally leader Chris Atkinson. The 26-year-old's Impreza slid wide on a left hand corner and bumped two wheels into some undergrowth and loose sand. The car was undamaged but became beached - stranded less than one metre off the road. Atkinson, Macneall and a handful of spectators did their best to rock the car back onto the stage, but their efforts were curtailed when the hot exhaust pipe ignited a small brush-fire. The stage was subsequently stopped as other crews helped to put out the fire, but although the blaze was eventually extinguished, the damage meant Atkinson was out of the Leg. Henning Solberg became the fifth retirement of the day when he was caught-out on a left hand corner and rolled his Peugeot 50 metres off the stage, the Norwegian had been sixth overall. Henning's brother Petter won the stage, with Hirvonen second and Citroen's Xavier Pons third.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 8:50.0

SS7: 1222 MURRAY SOUTH 2 (20.12KM)

In blazing sunshine Petter Solberg was fastest through the repeated Murray south stage to take his second win of the day and climb ahead of Hirvonen into the overall lead. As crews headed back to Perth for the first service of the day, Solberg's lead over Hirvonen was 2.7sec. Gronholm set the fifth fastest time but remained 12 minutes adrift of the leaders in eleventh place. Nonetheless, Gronholm remained the only driver with a chance of catching Loeb in the 2006 drivers' championship race. To keep the battle alive in New Zealand, Gronholm needs to finish Rally Australia third or higher.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 11:31.1

SS8: 1632 BERAKING 1 (22.84KM)

At the 30-minute pre-stage service, repair work to Gronholm's car overran by two minutes and the Finn collected 20sec of penalty time. Although down in 40th place after SS7, with a fresh car Gronholm attacked hard and set the fastest time through the 22km section at Beraking. The result moved him up the leaderboard to 28th spot but he remained more than 12 minutes adrift of the leaders. The battle for the overall lead between Solberg and Hirvonen intensified and after Hirvonen edged 1.7sec closer on the stage, Solberg's lead was down to just 1.3sec. Such was the pace of the leading pair that third placed Xavier Pons was 44sec behind.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 13:05.7

SS9: 1718 FLYNNS 1 (18.78KM)

The final proper stage of the day proved controversial, with many drivers complaining about thick clouds of dust hanging in the air from the cars ahead. Setting off at two-minute intervals several drivers reported dangerously poor visibility and Petter Solberg, one of the worst affected, was forced to stop more than once. The Norwegian lost around 40sec in the conditions and dropped behind Hirvonen to second place overall. Running in clear air at the head of the field, Gronholm's charge continued and he won the stage.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 11:07.2

SS10: 1925 PERTH CITY SUPER 3 (2.00KM)

Leg one concluded with another night-time trip to the Perth city Superspecial. With headlights blazing, Marcus Gronholm was fastest on the first loop as SS10.
Fastest Time: SS10 Gronholm (Ford) 1:22.6

SS11: PERTH CITY SUPER 4 (2.00KM)

Manfred Stohl took the win on the second pass as SS11. There were no changes to the top-ten positions.
Fastest Time: SS11 Stohl (Peugeot) 1:22.1

Team Quotes

SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM MANAGING DIRECTOR, RICHARD TAYLOR:
"We have been encouraged by the performance of both our cars in these hot and dry conditions. Once again this demonstrates the enormous effort from all the team to ensure Subaru can consistently challenge for top stage times. Both cars have run faultlessly and in the early stages we had two cars in the top three positions with Petter and Chris securing five stage wins. Chris was unfortunate to go off while leading and Petter lost a great deal of time in the dust, however I am sure Chris will be back tomorrow showing his pace, and am confident that Petter can close the gap to the rally leader."

PETTER SOLBERG:
"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:
"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."

News from Pirelli

MARIO ISOLA, PIRELLI COMPETIZIONI RALLY MANAGER
"Both of the Subaru drivers used the KP tread pattern throughout the day. We have seen some hot and slippery stage conditions however the tyre choices have been good and they performed very well. Both Petter and Chris enjoyed stage wins and were fighting at the top of the leaderboard. We are sure Petter can continue this fight tomorrow and no doubt Chris will restart and again be at the top of the stage times."

Tomorrow's Leg

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.

-credit: swrt

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Manfred Stohl , Mikko Hirvonen , Henning Solberg , Xavier Pons , Matthew Wilson , Chris Atkinson
Teams Citroën World Rally Team