Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen ended Leg two of Rally Catalunya in fifth and ninth place respectively after a disappointing day on the Spanish asphalt stages. Although both cars ran faultlessly throughout the day, and the drivers pushed as hard...
Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen ended Leg two of Rally Catalunya in fifth and ninth place respectively after a disappointing day on the Spanish asphalt stages. Although both cars ran faultlessly throughout the day, and the drivers pushed as hard as they could, they were unable to close the gap to the leaders. Making best use of the opportunity to test, both Petter and Mikko experimented with different tyres and car settings in the afternoon, and this work will continue on tomorrow's final Leg.
SS7: 0836 Les Llosses-Alpens 1 (21.80km)=09
Run as SS2 on Leg one, but in the opposite direction, the first of Saturday's tests featured an especially high-speed opening section, before the road became more narrow and twisty through woodland near the mid-point. As drivers made their way to the start of the 21km stage, at an altitude of 1,000 metres above sea level, just two seconds separated the top two competitors after 115km of competitive driving. Relishing the cold but dry conditions, event leader Sebastien Loeb was fastest through the smooth, slippery stage, despite hitting a rock as he cut a corner, to extend his advantage over second-placed Markko Martin to 3.4 seconds. Carlos Sainz was second fastest, with Martin third and Marcus Gronholm fourth. Subaru's Petter Solberg was sixth in his Impreza WRC while Mikko Hirvonen, who reported problems with understeer, was thirteenth. After the finish, crews drove a short 9km liaison section to the start of SS8.
SS8: 0914 Sta. Eulalia 1 (16.80km)
There was disaster for Citroen's Sebastien Loeb on the road section to the start of the St. Eulalia stage. As a result of hitting the rock in the previous test, the Frenchman's Xsara collected a hole in its sump and lost all engine oil. In a repeat of the circumstances that forced him out of Rally Mexico earlier this year, Sebastien was unable to repair the damage and he retired. His misfortune was Martin's gain and, no longer locked in a battle for the lead, the Estonian went on to take the stage win and end the test with a 42.9 second advantage overall. Remaining Citroen driver Carlos Sainz was demonstrating a quicker pace than on Leg one and was second fastest. At the finish, he lay 3.5 seconds behind Gronholm in third position overall. Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli was fourth fastest, while Solberg was seventh and Hirvonen, who had made some alterations to his Impreza's central differential settings before the start, was eighth.
SS9: 0940 Prats de Llu=E7an=E8s-Olost 1 (9.94km)
Reacting to Sainz's pace, Gronholm was fastest through the short, dry 10km test from Prats de Llucanes to take his first stage win of the event and extend his lead over the Spaniard back to six seconds. Martin was second fastest to maintain the overall lead, while Sainz, who reported a brake problem, was third. Mitsubishi drivers Daniel Sola and Gigi Galli finished fifth and sixth fastest respectively, but their team-mate Gilles Panizzi was twelfth. The Frenchman was effectively testing after losing time with a poor tyre choice on leg one and was struggling with a suspension set-up he believed was too hard for the conditions. Running at altitudes of between 500 and 700 metres above sea level, the slippery test bought no leading retirements and, after the finish, crews drove to Vic for a 10-minute remote tyre and fuel zone service.
SS10: 1043 Sant Julia 1 (32.90km)
Including the 'Panizzi bridge corner', where the Frenchman performed a series of donuts on his way to winning the event in 2001, the Saint Julia stage is arguably one of the most famous in the WRC and attracts thousands of spectators who watch from the motorway bridge above. However, this year the stage became the victim of its own popularity when it was cancelled by officials for safety reasons due to the high number of spectators. Cars instead returned directly to Vic for a 20-minute service.
SS11: 1351 Les Llosses-Alpens 2 (21.80km)=09
As conditions remained dry for the second pass through the 21km asphalt stage from Les Llosses, Marcus Gronholm was fastest as he continued to defend his position from the chasing Xsara of Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard, who was pushing hard for a good result on his last home event, charged through the repeated test to finish 5.6 seconds behind Gronholm and set exactly the same time as event leader Markko Martin. Lying half a minute clear of the rest of the field, the Estonian Ford driver maintained his competitive pace, despite suffering a small oil leak in his Focus, which affecting its clutch. Solberg was fifth fastest and Hirvonen was tenth. There were no retirements and, after the finish, crews moved to the start of SS12.
SS12: 1429 Sta. Eulalia 2 (16.80km)=09
Two and a half seconds was all that separated the top four drivers on the second pass through the 16km stage from St. Eulalia. Setting an average speed of 102.56kph, Martin was fastest, while Nicolas Vouilloz was second fastest in his Bozian prepared Peugeot 206WRC, Gronholm was third and Sainz fourth. Subaru's Petter Solberg suffered a spin in a narrow section near the start and lost 13 seconds to the leaders as he re-started, while an improved performance from Skoda's Toni Gardemeister secured the Finn the fifth fastest time - his best result of the event so far. Once the stage was complete, crews drove a short 4km road section to the start of SS13.=20
SS13: 1455 Prats de Llu=E7an=E8s-Olost 2 (9.94km)=09
There were no dramas on the second pass through the test from Prats de Llucanes. Competing on tyres that were more suited to the warmer afternoon stages than the cold ones at the start of the Leg, Gronholm was fastest to take his third win and extend his advantage over Carlos Sainz to 15.3 seconds. However, it wasn't enough to challenge for the lead and, at the finish, he remained 36.2 seconds adrift of Martin's time overall. Michelin-shod Subaru privateer Stephane Sarrazin was third fastest, while Sainz was fourth and Solberg fifth. There was no change to the overall top ten and, after the stage was complete, crews returned to Vic for a 10-minute remote tyre and fuel zone service.
SS14: 1558 Sant Juli=E0 2 (32.90km)=09
On the most famous stage of the Spanish event, local hero Carlos Sainz delighted his fans by setting the fastest time. In front of thousands of spectators, some of which had camped out all night to secure the best vantage points, Sainz was 0.4 seconds quicker than his closest rival, Markko Martin. Gronholm was third, with ex-Formula One driver Stephane Sarrazin fourth and Daniel Sola fifth. Once the stage was complete, crews returned to Vic for a final 45-minute service.
Petter Solberg: Like yesterday, we've had a difficult day on the stages. The car has run reliably, but even though I'm giving it 100 per cent the times just aren't good enough. We've experimented with some different tyres and set-ups this afternoon, but there was no real improvement. There's not a lot more to say, I'll just keep doing my best tomorrow and we'll see where it gets us.
On today's dry roads it's been quite tough, but I've pushed as hard as I could. I've been cutting every corner, even if it's not in the notes, just to try and get some advantage. Hopefully there will be some more damp conditions tomorrow, which would make things a little easier. My objective for tomorrow is to keep focused, keep out of trouble and narrow the gap to Petter's times.
Team Principal, David Lapworth:
After dropping time yesterday we have taken the opportunity to carry out some testing on today's stages. We've tried some different tyres and suspension set-ups and have learned a few lessons for the future. Both cars have run faultlessly and Petter and Mikko have remained committed to doing the best job they can. As Sebastien's retirement shows, you should never give up and never stop pushing, this is a tough event and there's still a long way to go.
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: It's been a tough day, but we managed to acquire more information about the optimal set-up between car and tyres on dry asphalt. These are conditions in which we have tested very little this year, having instead preferred to concentrate our resources on gravel where we have nearly always won.