The Subaru World Rally Team ended the opening leg of Rally GB with two cars in the points and with Petter Solberg in a strong second place. At the end of the day, the Norwegian was on top form and set two fastest stages times. On the final run through Rheola, he took eight seconds off rally leader Marcus Gronholm, setting up the prospect of a fight for the lead tomorrow. Chris Atkinson was battling for fourth position until an electrical glitch cost him time. He is still in the points in seventh position.
SS1: 0917HRS PORT TALBOT 1 (17.40KM)
The crews faced a challenging start to Rally GB as they headed out into
the Welsh countryside. The stage was very slippery due to heavy rain on
Thursday night. Although it wasn't raining as the stage got
underway, visibility was poor and the start of the test was shrouded in
early morning fog. The Subaru World Rally Team drivers made a steady
start to the event, and both Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson were in
the top six at the end of the 17 kilometre test. Petter had promised to
attack from the first metre of the rally and he was true to his word. He
started brightly, and the split times partway through the stage suggested
that he was on course to set the fastest time overall. But he had a stall
at one of the many hairpins that punctuate the stage. Although the
problem only cost him a few seconds, it ruined his chances of setting the
fastest time. Chris set the sixth-fastest time of 9m 26.5s and said:
"The stage wasn't too bad for us. We tried not to take any
risks, but maybe we were a little bit too cautious."
Fastest time: Marcus Gronholm (Ford) 9m 08.7s
SS2: 1002HRS RESOLFEN 1 (24.48KM)
The second stage was the fastest of the rally, with some flat-out
straights and long, sweeping corners deep in the forests. Near the end of
the test, as the crews headed back down towards the town of Resolfen
itself, the road got more twisty and technical. It was another difficult
and testing stage for the crews, with a great deal of standing water on
the road, more fog to contend with, showers of rain and, naturally, a
thick layer of mud. Petter was fourth fastest through the stage, with a
time of 12m 42.1s, and maintained his fourth place in the overall
standings, behind Manfred Stohl, Mikko Hirvonen and rally leader Marcus
Gronholm. The Norwegian felt that he struggled for speed and traction
through this stage. The road surface was much harder and more rocky than
the previous test and Petter thought this might have been a contributing
factor. Chris came through the stage in 13m 04.2s, which meant he
remained sixth overall, just behind Jari-Matti Latvala.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 12m 26.4s
SS3: 1054HRS RHEOLA 1 (27.90KM)
Before the crews could head back to Felindre for the first service halt,
they had to clear the longest stage of the day. Petter made a small
change to the set-up of his Subaru Impreza WRC2006 before the start of
this stage and immediately felt more comfortable in the conditions. He
set the third-fastest time of 15m 43.8s and moved up to third overall,
deposing Stohl. Chris was seventh fastest through the test with a time of
16m 03.9s. He was happy with his performance through the first half of
the stage, but less so with the second portion. Gronholm continued to
lead the rally as the crews headed back to Felindre for the first service
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 15m 34.5s
SS4: 1333HRS PORT TALBOT 2 (17.40KM)
As the Subaru World Rally Team drivers left service to tackle the second
loop of stages, both Petter and Chris found themselves one place higher
up the order. At service, it was discovered that Mikko Hirvonen's
Ford had incurred rollcage damage during an off on SS1. He had to retire,
elevating Petter to second and Chris to fifth. Both drivers set faster
times on the second run through the Port Talbot test. Petter was second
fastest through the stage with an effort of 9m 12.3s and maintained his
second place overall, 4.5s ahead of third-placed Stohl. Chris took 9m
20.7s to negotiate the stage and closed to within 13.8s of Latvala in
fourth position. Chris reported no problems during the stage.
Fastest time: Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) 9m 10.9s
SS5: 1418HRS RESOLFEN 2 (24.48KM)
During the second blast through Resolfen, the Subaru World Rally Team
drivers continued their afternoon charge. Petter set equal fastest time
with rally leader Gronholm, which was a boost for the Norwegian. Although
Petter was 34.4s behind the Finnish driver, he said he was not giving up:
"I'm going to try everything I can to beat Marcus."
Chris also felt happier at the end of the stage. He posted a time of 12m
52.2s, which was good enough for fourth fastest. It pulled him another
3.0s closer to Latvala. "It's all going a little bit better
now," said Chris. "We're beginning to understand the
car this afternoon. We did some fine-tuning at service and we'll
see if we can keep improving on the next stage."
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford)/Solberg (Subaru) 12m 41.8s
SS6: 1510HRS RHEOLA 2 (27.90KM)
An excellent end to the first day of Rally GB for Petter, who set a
storming time through Rheola and was fastest overall. He beat Gronholm by
eight seconds and closed to within 25.8s of the rally leader. "That
was a really good run," Petter said. "The tyres worked really
well and the balance of the car was good." Chris did not enjoy the
stage as much as his team-mate. He was on course for a good time when his
car suddenly stopped with an electrical glitch. Co-driver Glenn Macneall
explained: "We came into a hairpin about five kilometres from the
end and braked, but when Chris got back on the throttle, nothing
happened. The car stalled, and we struggled to get it to restart."
The lost time dropped him from fifth to seventh.
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 15m 39.3s
SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM MANAGING DIRECTOR, RICHARD TAYLOR:
"It's been a fairly typical Rally GB, very fast with very slippery stages. We're delighted to see Petter up in second place. He's only 25 seconds off the lead now and it should prove to be an interesting day and a half to come. We've obviously got to try to put some pressure on Marcus Gronholm, but let's see what kind of result we can get. Chris has had a slightly tougher day - he had a few problems this morning with the ‘feel' of the car and then an electrical glitch this afternoon, but it is positive that both cars are in points-scoring positions."
"I've been trying very, very hard today, let me tell you, but I think that's the only way to go if we're going to stand a chance of winning. I must say though that things are looking good and I'm feeling very positive. It's a shame we lost about 10 seconds on the first stage this morning when we stalled in a hairpin but we took a good amount of time back on the last stage and that was good fun. It's been ages since we were able to take so much time from anybody and that's very motivating. I hope we can continue like this tomorrow - I think it is going to be a very interesting day."
"It's been a difficult day, we've been struggling to find a good set-up and haven't had enough confidence in the car to be able to push flat-out. I thought we were going to be able to finish the day in fourth place but then what looks like an electrical problem cost us about a minute and ruined that plan. Tomorrow we'll wait and see, it's difficult to predict what we'll be able to do, but we'll certainly give it our best shot."
News from Pirelli
MARIO ISOLA, PIRELLI COMPETIZIONI RALLY MANAGER
"I'm very satisfied about the performance of the Pirelli PZero KP 6 tyres that Petter drove today. It's encouraging to see how his speed continued to improve as the day went on. I am pleased, too, that on the last rally of our partnership with Subaru we are continuing to bring the very top level of tyres to the team."
The crews travel north to the fringes of the Brecon Beacons for leg two. The day includes two runs through a trio of well-known tests: Crychan, Halfway and Epynt, before the day ends with the 1.1km Cardiff Super Special held inside the Millennium Stadium. An estimated 25,000 spectators will get some respite from the harsh winter weather under the stadium's retractable roof. There are 104.30 competitive kilometres and a total route length of 374.87km.