Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg holds second place overall at the end of the second day of competition on Rally Australia. Solberg's Impreza WRC2006 ran faultlessly throughout the Leg and enabled him to set a string of top-three...
Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg holds second place overall at the end of the second day of competition on Rally Australia. Solberg's Impreza WRC2006 ran faultlessly throughout the Leg and enabled him to set a string of top-three times, as well as the stage win on the longest test of the day. With six more timed stages remaining, the Norwegian looks on course to equal his best result of the season so far. Solberg's team-mate Chris Atkinson restarted after retiring from the lead earlier in the event. Although out of contention for the result he had hoped for, the 26-year-old Australian made the most of the opportunity to test his Impreza before the next WRC round in New Zealand.
SS12: 0920HRS BANNISTER NORTH 1 (17.71KM)
Weather conditions were hot, dry and sunny as crews headed south from
Perth to the fast gravel tracks in the Bannister forest. The first loop
of five tests was based in the pine plantation previously known as
Bunnings, and a sequence of jumps and watersplashes near the finish make
it one of the most famous sections of the rally. Overnight leader Mikko
Hirvonen set the early pace, recording a fastest time 1.7sec quicker than
his team-mate, Marcus Gronholm, and 2sec quicker than Petter Solberg, who
Fastest Time: Hirvonen (Ford) 8:34.7
SS13: 0952HRS BANNISTER CENTRAL 1 (17.85KM)
Hirvonen was quickest again through the second Bannister stage, but
Solberg was right behind and stopped the clock 0.2 sec later. Marcus
Gronholm set the third fastest time and moved another place up the
leaderboard to 13th. After losing more than 12min when he rolled on Leg
one, Gronholm remained a long way adrift of the leaders, but pushed on
nevertheless, his sights now set on a top-five finish. Manfred Stohl was
fourth fastest and moved ahead of Xavier Pons into third overall, while
Chris Atkinson, who restarted after retiring on Friday, rounded off the
Fastest Time: Hirvonen (Ford) 9:20.8
SS14: 1036HRS BANNISTER LOOP (3.62KM)
Times were extremely close through the shortest of the Bannister stages,
with less than two seconds separating the top five drivers. Gronholm was
fastest by 1.1sec, followed by Hirvonen then Pons and Solberg who set
identical times in third. After the stage crews headed to Wespine village
for a regroup before repeating the north and central sections.
Fastest: Gronholm (Ford) 1:57.5
SS15: 1155HRS BANNISTER NORTH 2 (17.71KM)
Under the strong midday sun it was tight at the top again through the
repeated Bannister North section, with the two quickest drivers, Gronholm
and Solberg, separated by just 0.1sec. Over the 17km stage Hirvonen was
3.2sec slower than Solberg and his overall lead came down to 25.3sec as a
result. Stage conditions were different to the first pass; less loose
gravel meant there was more grip and a more visible driving line, but
most crews reported deeps ruts on the slower, sandy corners.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 8:30.5
SS16: 1227HRS BANNISTER CENTRAL 2 (17.85KM)
Hirvonen reacted to Solberg's pace on the previous stage by pushing
harder and setting the fastest time, but with the top three so closely
matched there was no significant movement at the top of the leaderboard.
Gronholm finished 0.2sec behind his Ford team-mate, with Solberg another
0.9sec back. Having collected a 25-minute penalty when he retired on Leg
one, Chris Atkinson's focus had shifted to testing ahead of the
next round in New Zealand. With little to gain from taking risks in the
car he would depend on next month, Atkinson drove smoothly and reliably
to record another top-five time.
Fastest Time: Hirvonen (Ford) 9:15.0
SS17: 1632HRS BERAKING 2 (22.84KM)
After a 30-minute service in Perth city, crews drove 58km east to the
Beraking stage, tackled previously on Leg one as SS8. Weather conditions
had changed in the four hours since SS16; the sky was overcast and there
had been some slight rain, although none fell as the WRC competitors were
on the stage. Once again, there was little to separate Subaru's
Petter Solberg and the two Fords of Gronholm and Hirvonen. Solberg guided
his Impreza WRC2006 over the line in the fastest time, but Hirvonen was
only 1.5sec back to keep the overall lead at a shade under 25sec. Fifth
placed overall and leader of the P-WRC category, Toshi Arai, rolled his
Impreza Group N. Although he managed to complete the stage, dropping six
minutes, he later retired.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 12:34.5
SS18: 1718HRS FLYNNS 2 (18.78KM)
Gronholm was fastest on the last forest stage of the day to ease ahead of
two more Group N competitors and into eighth place overall. Gronholm
needs to finish in third place or higher on Sunday to prevent Sebastien
Loeb from winning the 2006 WRC Drivers' Championship. Hirvonen and
Solberg were second and third respectively, with Stohl fourth and
Atkinson fifth. Many drivers had factored rain into their tyre choices
for the final stages, but although the sky was grey and overcast, the
rain didn't materialise and the surface remained dry.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 10:48.1
SS19: 1925HRS (SS20 1934HRS) PERTH CITY SUPER 5&6 (2KM)
With headlights blazing, crews tackled the head-to-head figure-of-eight
course at Gloucester Park for the last time. As usual, times over the 2km
stage were extremely close, with just a few tenths of a second separating
the WRC cars. A crowd of 10,000 spectators cheered the drivers on but
reserved the biggest applause for Chris Atkinson who, in a thrilling
finale, beat his Subaru team-mate by just 0.1sec.
Fastest Time: SS19 Gronholm (Ford) 1:21.8
Fastest Time: SS20 Hirvonen (Ford) 1:21.5
SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM MANAGING DIRECTOR, RICHARD TAYLOR:
'I am pleased that once more we are in the fight at the top of the leaderboard. Again, both cars have run without fault and Petter is challenging hard to win. Chris has set some solid times throughout the day and has not taken any chances. There's still another 100km to go tomorrow with some tricky stages that will I am sure suit Petter, so we look forward to the action.'
'It's been very close today and I've really enjoyed the fight. This afternoon was not as damp as we hoped, so I think I lost some time there with the tyre choice. Of course I really want to win, but I think Mikko wants to win too! It's a long day tomorrow and the stages are a bit more difficult so it will be very interesting to see what happens.'
'After the time loss yesterday there was nothing to be gained in being a hero today. I didn't have the same confidence in the car as yesterday, so I've not been taking big risks and have wanted to look after the car for New Zealand.'
News from Pirelli
MARIO ISOLA, PIRELLI COMPETIZIONI RALLY MANAGER
'The Subaru drivers have again both used the KP tread pattern throughout today's stages. Once more the tyres have performed well in the conditions and we are very hopeful that tomorrow Chris can make up many more places and Petter can hopefully fight to win.'
Sunday's final Leg of competition starts from 0600hrs, when crews leave park ferme in Perth and tackle a loop of three forest stages, totalling 51 competitive kilometres, in the countryside to the east of the city. After a 30-minute service, the loop is repeated before the cars return to Langley Park for the finish ceremony. The winning car will drive over the podium at 1430hrs.