The event Following the long-haul trip to Japan at the end of last month, November takes the Subaru World Rally Team closer to home, to Rally Ireland and the penultimate round of the 2007 World Rally Championship. A new addition to the WRC ...
Following the long-haul trip to Japan at the end of last month, November takes the Subaru World Rally Team closer to home, to Rally Ireland and the penultimate round of the 2007 World Rally Championship. A new addition to the WRC calendar, this year is the first that Rally Ireland has been run as a World Rally Championship round.
There are only 18,000 inhabitants in the small west coast town of Sligo, home to Rally HQ and the service park. It is located approx 200km from Belfast, which plays host to the event-opening Super Special in the grounds of Stormont castle. The last asphalt outing of the year, the stages are unusually bumpy, quite unlike any other sealed surface rally and will make for an unique challenge. Secondhand World Rally Cars are prolific in Ireland, and no fewer than 36 of these cars are on the entry list. Among them, Subarus have enjoyed great success, this year dominating the Irish Tarmac Championship and claiming the top four spots in the overall standings. As the WRC comes to town, thousands of enthusiastic spectators are expected to follow the action.
The weather in November is as you might expect -- unpredictable with the ever-present chance of rain. The surface is usually damp, and a mix of asphalt and gravel, meaning the cars are setup in a totally different way to any other asphalt event. Tyre choice will be critical with the changing conditions, and the very narrow routes and high speed mean it will be easy to make mistakes. Despite the fact that dusk will fall at around 1630hrs, the short spectator stage in Belfast will be the only stage that the lead WRC cars will start in the dark.
A pilot event was run last year that featured stages winding through similar areas to this year's route, however the exact stages have not been rallied before. Totally new is the spectator Super Special stage in Stormont, Belfast which starts the rally on Thursday evening. The second section of leg one, the trickiest of the rally, commences from Sligo on Friday.
Although the total liaison distance is only 853.91km (excluding travel to Belfast for SS1), the event route takes in eight counties, both to the north and the south of the island, and crosses between Ulster and the Republic of Ireland, making it a very diverse event.
Chris competed on Rally Ireland last year so has an idea of what the conditions can be like, but Petter and Xevi have no experience of Irish asphalt.
Three Subaru World Rally Team Impreza WRC2007s are entered for the fifteenth round of the 2007 WRC calendar. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills will drive car number seven, Chris Atkinson/Stephane Prevot will drive number eight, and Spanish duo Xevi Pons/Xavier Amigo will be in car number 14.
Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director: "We haven't had the opportunity to test in Ireland this year, but we have the benefit of knowledge gained by the many customer cars that are running and winning in Ireland. We know it's going to be a great challenge with very different tarmac roads to any other round and we're looking forward to it. It will be very exciting that there will likely be more Subaru WRC cars than at any other World Championship rally. I hope that we and all the other Subaru entries will put on a strong performance for the fans."
Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: "Rally Ireland is very different to a normal Irish tarmac event, as they've come up with an unique route. It's very narrow, only one car width in places, and very high speed, especially in the beginning section. There are a lot of junctions and switchbacks from main roads to narrow back routes. The roads are often damp, and it is very easy to go off. Two elements will be absolutely critical: tyre choice and staying on the road. It's very hard to maintain tyre temperature, and as it's so narrow there is only one line. All it takes is to touch the grass with the rear and the car will be instantly sideways. It's so unforgiving, and if the pace is fast then we can expect a similar rate of attrition to Japan."
CAR NUMBER 7
Petter Solberg: "I have never rallied in Ireland before so it will be very new for me, but I am looking forward to it. The fans in Ireland are rally-mad which is really good. It's always nice to drive in front of people who are really into it. It would have been good to do a few rallies earlier in the year to get a feel for the surface, but still we prepare and focus 110 per cent. It will be very interesting I think, especially with the chance that the 2007 championship can be decided there."
CAR NUMBER 8
Chris Atkinson: "Rally Ireland is a totally different event, not just in terms of the bumpy surface. Being a new round it's very difficult to prepare for. We've driven the route in a Group N car, but the extra speed of the WRC car is bound to make it very different. When everything comes up faster, it becomes more difficult as you have to process the information faster, and when it is all new that is the hard part. The surface is half asphalt and half gravel, which means we have to use an unique setup. We actually set the car up for the wet to get the compromise between the two surfaces, and the high chance of rain. Rather than when the asphalt gets wet and slippery, it's when the asphalt is totally dry that you lose time."
CAR NUMBER 14
Xevi Pons: "I haven't been to Ireland before so it's another new weekend for me. Ok, it will be a hard rally and very slippery, so it will be easy to make a mistake but I will push as hard as I can. We haven't done any testing there so I don't really know what to expect from the conditions, but I still prepare in the same way as any rally, and learn as fast as I can from the recce days."
Between the rallies
Chris and Petter stayed on in Japan for media functions for the recent launch of the Impreza WRX STi road car. The pair then travelled to the UK for pre-event testing at the beginning of the month. Phil Mills, Stephane Prevot, and the duo of Xevi and Xavier Amigo all spent time at home.