The Subaru World Rally Team's latest challenger, the Impreza WRC2007, made a promising debut on Rally Mexico and successfully scored points in the hands of Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall. The pair started the third and final leg in fifth position...
The Subaru World Rally Team's latest challenger, the Impreza WRC2007, made a promising debut on Rally Mexico and successfully scored points in the hands of Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall. The pair started the third and final leg in fifth position and held that position throughout the day's four competitive tests. The potential of the new car had been shown earlier in the event when Petter Solberg/Phil Mills led convincingly for the first five stages of leg one. In all, the WRC2007 scored four fastest stage times first time out.
SS17: 0823HRS LEON (16.29KM)
The opening stage of the rally's third and final leg was Leon, a
predominantly uphill mountain route, which had been modified since last
year to include sections of roads last used in 2004 and 2005. Conditions
remained dry and dusty and a lack of breeze prompted organisers to
increase starting intervals from two, to three minutes to allow dust
clouds to settle between each passing car. With Loeb and Gronholm
relatively secure in first and second place, all eyes were on the battle
for the final podium position. Mikko Hirvonen was the fastest driver on
the stage, and moved into third, ahead of Dani Sordo, who was
fourth-fastest. Chris Atkinson, in the new Impreza WRC2007, was
Fastest: Hirvonen (Ford) 10:35.8
SS18: 0854HRS GUANAJUATITO (23.34KM)
Having climbed to an altitude of more than 2600 metres during SS17, crews
drove directly to the start of the longest stage of the final leg, and a
sinuous downhill route that passed through the village of Guanajuatito.
Hirvonen and Sordo held their positions over the 23km test and with the
end of the rally approaching, there were no significant changes to the
overall classification. Chris Atkinson continued to familiarise himself
with the handling of his new car. And even though a different suspension
set-up for leg three hadn't given him the performance edge he'd hoped
for, he remained optimistic about its potential. "I'm doing all I can,
but I haven't quite got the ideal set-up yet to challenge Mikko or Dani.
The car does feel good though, and with a little bit more testing I think
we'll be there," said Atkinson.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 15:12.3
SS19: 1017HRS COMANJILLA (18.01KM)
The penultimate stage of Rally Mexico was the last of the proper mountain
roads, and a difficult, varied challenge for the drivers. Comanjilla
started with a 4km uphill sprint before a more open, flowing section
which eventually joined part of Derramadero -- used previously as SS11
and SS14. Another fastest time from third-placed Hirvonen moved him 16sec
ahead of Sordo, but with just the Superspecial to go, nobody in the
top-10 was taking any unnecessary risks.
Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 10:17.6
SS20: 1128HRS SUPERSPECIAL 5 (4.42KM)
The final stage took crews back to the Leon Superspecial for another
head-to-head challenge in front of thousands of spectators. The format
for the stage was altered for leg three and drivers completed four laps
of the specially made crossover circuit, rather than two as they had
previously. Fastest over the 4.4km section was Gronholm, who secured
second place overall, while Loeb was second-fastest to claim the rally
victory. Chris Atkinson was joint-third on the Superspecial to finish
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 03:23.6
Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, Richard Taylor: "Not a perfect result, but an excellent demonstration of the performance potential of the new car. It's at a level we're really pleased with, and this weekend Petter and Chris have both shown that we've got podium pace. Of course we've got some fine tuning to do, which is what we always expected, but I think we can expect stronger results in the rest of the season."
Chris Atkinson: "We came here looking for a top-five finish and although things could have been better, it's not a bad result to take away. We tried a different set-up for today's stages, but when we saw the split times it was clear that it was a step in the wrong direction and we had to back off a bit -- on this occasion it was more important to finish. Overall I think we're all pleased with the way the new car has performed. On its first time out we've got a few stage wins, it's proved competitive on Superspecials, and works well on repeated stages too. It's already got better traction, more stability and a more consistent feel than last year's car. Now it's a case of fine tuning it for me and Petter after we've had a chance to analyse what we've learned in Mexico. But I'd say things are looking positive for Portugal."
Didier Martin, BFGoodrich rally technician: "Before Petter's retirement he showed that on gravel the new Subaru and BFGoodrich package had the speed to win rallies. During the event Petter and Chris got on well with our wider gravel tyres, which confirmed the positive feeling they had at the pre-event test. We can already see that the new car is not as aggressive on its tyres as the previous model, and we look forward to working with Subaru to unlock more of its potential in Portugal."
The next event
Next the Subaru World Rally Team shifts its focus to Portugal, the second consecutive gravel rally. This event is returning to the World Rally Championship for the first time since 2001. The rally will be based in southern Portugal, known for its magnificent beaches, marvellous landscape and thermal spas. The host town will be Vilamoura, with the beautiful marina the location for the ceremonial start. The rally service area is eight kilometres outside of Faro at the Algarve Stadium. The event's 16 gravel special stages will be a step into the unknown for most of the crews and will take places in the hills to the north of Faro.