WRC

Rally Mexico: Day one report

Solberg claims early lead in Corona Rally Mexico Subaru World Rally Team driver and former FIA World Rally Champion Petter Solberg leads Corona Rally Mexico after the opening leg of competition. The Norwegian claimed three fastest stage times in...

Solberg claims early lead in Corona Rally Mexico

Subaru World Rally Team driver and former FIA World Rally Champion Petter Solberg leads Corona Rally Mexico after the opening leg of competition. The Norwegian claimed three fastest stage times in the debut competitive outing of Subaru's new Impreza WRC 2005 and takes a 20.5 second advantage into the second day of the event. Peugeot drivers Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin hold second and third respectively after a day characterised by slippery conditions and a host of brake problems for virtually all the leading contenders.

The 146.84 competitive kilometre leg took in two loops of three identical stages and while the crews experienced incredibly slippery conditions on the dry and gravel-strewn mountain roads in the first loop, the second passage through the same stages provided cleaner conditions and markedly faster stage times. Petter Solberg staked his claim on the lead from the outset and has led from the start to the finish of the leg, winning a total of three stages. The Norwegian has probably experienced the least of the brake problems, allowing him to attack throughout and pull out a healthy advantage.

"It's been a very good day with only some small brake problems," said Petter. "The car is perfect and tomorrow I will try and control the pace from the front."

Second after stage one was reigning World Champion Sebastien Loeb, but the Frenchman's rally hopes were dashed before he even got to the second stage. Rear suspension problems saw him plummet to 18th position at the mid-day service back in Leon and he overnights in 14th. After his disappointing retirement in Sweden, Loeb's title defence seems to be echoing that of Solberg's in 2004, when little seemed to go right following the title year.

"I broke the shock absorber at the end of the first stage, but I didn't notice until I stopped to check the tyre pressures," said Seb. "The wheel wasn't straight and I had no option but to drive through the stages like this until reaching service," added the Citroe driver, who arrived spectacularly on three wheels.

Marcus Gronholm has spent the day controlling brake problems, the Finn setting fastest time in stage two where all the top crews had difficulty stopping. The Peugeot driver held second place for most of the day and fired a warning shot across Solberg's bows by taking 5.3 seconds off the Norwegian in the final stage to finish 20.5 seconds adrift. "I haven't been comfortable in the car all day, often having to pump the brakes," said Marcus. "I don't really know why, but it's a little the same as last year. Tomorrow I am going to try and stay second; I don't want to have another accident like I did in Sweden. It's going to be very hard for anyone to catch Petter."

Team-mate Markko Martin had a slow start but topped the timesheets on the fast Santana-Cubilete stage (SS3) to arrive at the mid-day service in fourth. An increasingly strong run in the afternoon saw the Peugeot 307 WRC driver climb to third place at the end of the day, 10.4 seconds behind his team leader.

Francois Duval holds fourth position in the second Citroen Xsara WRC after a steady run through the opening leg and is just three seconds adrift of Martin. The surprise drive of the day has however been young Australian Chris Atkinson in the second Subaru Impreza WRC 2005, who amazed everyone by claiming an early third overall. Despite his lack of experience, Atkinson was in the top ten in every stage and came back to Leon in a creditable fifth overall in only his second event with a factory team.

Roman Kresta was the strongest of the Ford crews, despite not being nominated for Manufacturer points, and holds sixth ahead of the lead Mitsubishi of 2002 Corona Rally Mexico winner Harri Rovanpera. 0x582boda's Armin Schwarz, in 12th, has been baffled by a lack of pace, but his team-mate Jani Paasonen suffered more. The Finn was sixth in the opening stage but quickly paid the price with an accident in the second stage.

In the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, the battle is predictably between the two Suzuki drivers Guy Wilks and P-G Andersson. The Briton has taken the overnight advantage, but both are experiencing dramatic handling. "The surface is really weird, you never know whether the car is going to oversteer or understeer... and it does both violently!" said Guy.

Ricardo Trivino has the honour of leading the Mexican crews and the local driver, who has previously contested the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, holds 17th position in this Peugeot 206WRC.

"I've had a fantastic welcome from the fans," said Ricardo. "It's been a great day and tomorrow I will attack."

The second leg of Corona Rally Mexico takes the crews over another two loops of three identical stages and covers 146.48 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 365.28 kilometres.

-www.rallymexico.com

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team