The Subaru World Rally Team's first day of competition with the new Impreza WRC2007 was an encouraging one. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills led for most of the leg and Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall ended the day with a stage win and in a strong second...
The Subaru World Rally Team's first day of competition with the new Impreza WRC2007 was an encouraging one. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills led for most of the leg and Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall ended the day with a stage win and in a strong second position overall. Solberg netted three fastest stage times in the morning, but his impressive charge ended cruelly when a loss of engine oil forced him to stop after SS5. Chris ran with the leaders from the outset and feels there is even more performance to come from his car on tomorrow's leg.
SS1: 0828HRS ALFARO 1 (23.06KM)
After Thursday night's spectacular starting ceremony in historic
Guanajuato City, crews began the proper competitive action on Friday
morning. Under partly cloudy skies, and in a temperature of 13 degrees
Celsius, crews tackled the high-speed 23.06km section from the village of
Alfaro. A slippery, loose gravel surface proved problematic for many
competitors, but Subaru's Petter Solberg seemed to revel in the
conditions and set the fastest time with his Impreza WRC2007 on its very
first WRC appearance. Chris Atkinson was quick off the mark too and
completed the stage in third place.
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 14:03.5
SS2: 0951hrs Ortega 1 (29.66km)
The second test of the day was the highest of the rally, and peaked at
2737 metres above sea level. The road surface was less loose and slippery
than the previous stage, but with big dips, jumps, a river crossing and
drainage culverts lining the road there was plenty to keep drivers'
attention. Running as sixth car on the road, Petter Solberg was the
pace-setter once again and his winning time extended his overall rally
lead from 2.9sec to 6.1sec. The Subaru team recorded a one-two victory on
the stage when Chris Atkinson brought his car over the line in the
second-fastest time to consolidate his third place overall.
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 17:28.7
SS3: 1034HRS EL CUBILETE 1 (17.88KM)
The last test of the morning loop was El Cubilete -- one of the shorter
stages but possibly the fastest of the rally. Petter Solberg recorded his
third consecutive stage win and as he returned to Leon for a 30-minute
service his overall lead stood at 7.7sec. Following two top-three
performances Chris Atkinson set the seventh-fastest time, but thought he
knew where the time has been lost: "It was okay, but the car was moving
about a bit too much, it's something we should be able to remedy with a
set-up adjustment in service," said Atkinson.
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 09:45.6
SS4: 1302HRS ALFARO 2 (23.06KM)
With the temperature in the mid-20's Celsius, crews left service and
drove the 9km liaison route to Alfaro and the first of the three stages
to be re-run. With most of the loose gravel swept by the cars to the
outside of the corners on the first pass, the repeated stage featured a
clean racing line on a rock-hard base. The chance in conditions was
reflected by quicker times generally, and the best time on the second
pass was 16sec quicker than when it was run as SS1. Petter Solberg
continued his trouble-free run and completed the 23km route in the
second-fastest time, while Chris Atkinson was fifth-fastest. Both Subaru
drivers maintained their overall positions, with Solberg still in the
lead by a margin of 4.9sec.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 13:47.0
SS5: 1425HRS ORTEGA 2 (29.66KM)
After a refuelling stop, the drivers tackled Ortega, the longest of the
day's repeated stages. In an extremely close result, Manfred Stohl was
fastest and claimed his first stage win of the rally by a slender 0.1sec
from Sebastien Loeb who was second. Chris Atkinson was the quickest
Subaru driver, and set the fourth-fastest time. But the biggest story of
SS5 took place after the finish, on the road section to SS6, when a loss
of engine oil forced rally leader Petter Solberg out of the day's
competition. Solberg's Impreza was recovered to the service area for a
thorough inspection before a decision on whether or not to re-start will
Fastest time: Stohl (Citroen) 16:58.2
SS6: 1508HRS EL CUBILETE 2 (17.88)
After inheriting the rally lead from Solberg, Loeb was quickest through
the last proper stage of the day to open up a 27sec advantage over the
new second place man, Chris Atkinson. Atkinson though was under pressure
from fourth placed Mikko Hirvonen, who finished the high-speed stage
8.5sec quicker and reduced the Australian's advantage to just 0.4sec.
After a thrilling battle between the pair on the Monte Carlo Superspecial
in January, the scene was set for a rematch on the spectator stage in
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 09:37.5
SS7/SS8: 1629/33HRS SUPER SPECIAL (2.21KM)
First used in 2006, the Rally Mexico Superspecial is run on a motor
racing circuit on the outskirts of Leon. Its high-speed straights, big
jumps and watersplashes have made it a firm favourite with spectators and
thousands flocked to the track to watch the cars as they raced in the
afternoon sunshine. Cars tackled the stage two at a time and completed
two laps of the circuit as SS7, before switching lanes and repeating the
course as SS8. On SS7, Marcus Gronholm set the fastest time, with
Atkinson 0.2sec back in second. But on SS8 Atkinson took the stage win,
his first of the rally. The combined result meant that Atkinson held on
to second place, and extended his lead over Hirvonen.
Fastest times: SS7: Gronholm (Ford) 1:42.6 / SS8: Atkinson (Subaru) 1:42.0
Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, Richard Taylor: "We can take a good deal of encouragement from the team's performance today. For the first five stages we were leading the rally and it went very well for us, realistically, perhaps better than we might have hoped with a brand new car. Naturally it was disappointing to lose Petter's car, but Chris has done an excellent job and holds second place, and that's good news. We can't be sure of the cause of Petter's oil leak yet, but rock damage to the oil cooler appears to be the most likely explanation. We always knew there was going to be more work to do to the new car, and we expect it will take three or four rallies to get the best out of it, but we've clearly got the fundamentals right. We've shown today that we have the speed to lead rallies. Now we've got to convert that into results."
Chris Atkinson: "I haven't had such a good feeling in the car for a long time, and the pace we've shown today is really good news for the whole team at Subaru. Of course it's unfortunate about Petter, but if you look at the whole picture it's encouraging nonetheless. It's a bit of a shame that we gave away a bit of time earlier today, but that's just down to fine tuning the car. For some stages it's been good, on others not so good, but that's completely understandable when you consider how fresh this car is. We're a little bit away just now, but improvements will come with experience and we're learning more all the time."
Petter Solberg: "Good and bad news really. Everything was perfect until about 12km before the finish line of SS5 when the oil light started to blink. I pushed on, but at the end of the stage we had no oil pressure and, it turned out, no oil. And that was it. It looks like there was a tiny bit of damage to the oil cooler, but that was enough to drain the system. Overall, it's important to note that we had the winning pace, even on the repeated stages, and things like tyre wear and general feeling were very, very good. We were leading the rally here, and I'm sure it won't be long before we're doing that again."
Saturday's second leg is the longest of the rally and starts from 0730hrs when crews head out to three new gravel stages in the countryside to the east of the host city Leon. Drivers will tackle all three stages in the morning, before a 30-minute service and a repeat of the loop in the afternoon. The day ends with a second trip to the head-to-head Superspecial stage in Leon.