The Subaru World Rally Team's quest for points continued on the second day of Rally Mexico, with Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall ending the leg in fifth position. Although it was a tough day, Chris felt he learned a lot more about the characteristics of the Impreza WRC2007, which is still being developed by the team throughout its first-ever World Rally Championship event. With four special stages left to run, Chris is on target to achieve the team's pre-event target of a top-five finish.
SS9: 0819hrs Ibarrilla 1 (30.20km)
Leg two began from Leon at 0730hrs with partly cloudy conditions and a
temperature of 13 degrees Celsius. Ibarrilla, the first stage of the day,
was located to the north east of the city 15km from the service area. The
dry weather ensured that the 30km speed test was dusty, and meant there was
plenty of loose gravel covering the twisty mountain route. The fastest time
was set by rally leader Sebastien Loeb, but the battle for second place
between Mikko Hirvonen and Chris Atkinson intensified as Hirvonen pulled
ahead of his Subaru rival by 1.2sec. "We had a good pace at the start, even
though there was a lot of dust in the air, but were over cautious towards
the end, we'll keep trying, don't worry," said Atkinson.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 18:17.3
SS10: 0942hrs Duarte 1 (23.51km)
According to Petter Solberg's co-driver, Phil Mills, the number of 90-degree
bends on the 23km Duarte stage make it the most twisty of the rally. The
narrow, technical route is also one of the least forgiving, and most of the
corners have rocks on the apex, the outside edge, or both. Having altered
the suspension set-up of his new Impreza WRC2007 at the end of leg one,
Atkinson was still getting used the feel of the car, but was confident
enough to set the fourth-fastest time and claw back 1.1 sec of Hirvonen's
advantage. At the end of the stage, the gap between the pair was a slender
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 17:55.0
SS11: 1033hrs Derramadero (23.27km)
After a very tight and technical stage, crews headed 16km west to a
particularly quick one. Derramadero starts with a flat-out 15km sprint on a
hard smooth surface, before getting rougher and ending with a series of
violent jumps and dips. After suffering with an engine problem for much of
leg one, Marcus Gronholm attacked hard on SS11 to take the stage win and
leap from fourth to second in the overall classification. Another good stage
time from Dani Sordo meant that four drivers, separated by less than 10sec,
were now in the fight for second place. Chris Atkinson lost part of his
car's front bumper in one of dips near the end of the stage, but didn't
think the incident had slowed him.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 14:01.6
SS12: 1307hrs Ibarrilla 2 (30.20km)
After a 30-minute service halt in Leon, crews headed back to the village of
Ibarrilla to begin the repeat pass through the morning's stages. Weather
conditions remained overcast, with a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius and
little or no wind. Many drivers reported visibility problems during the 30km
section as dust clouds from the cars ahead hung in the air. With most of the
loose gravel swept from the road during the first run, stage winner Loeb
completed the test 11sec quicker than he had on SS9. At the finish line
Chris Atkinson reported problems: "We lost some engine power half way
through and dropped off a fair bit. We've no idea why, but I think we gave
away nearly 20 seconds." As a result the Australian dropped back one place
to fifth in the overall classification.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 18:06.2
SS13: 1430hrs Duarte 2 (23.51km)
After a refuelling stop, the drivers made their way back to the twisty and
technical Duarte stage. Before starting the test, Atkinson pulled over on
the road section and ran a series of diagnostic checks on his car's engine.
The most likely source of the power loss was intermittent turbo boost
pressure. He went on to complete the stage in the fourth-fastest time and
kept himself firmly in contention for a podium finish. In an incredibly
close grouping, Atkinson remained fifth overall, but less than two seconds
from third. Danni Sordo moved up a place to third after Hirvonen spun in the
first split section and lost around 20 seconds.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 17:32.2
SS14: 1521hrs Derramadero 2 (23.27km)
The furious scrap for third continued on the last of the day's mountain
tests. Hirvonen and Sordo swapped places once again, while Atkinson pushed
as hard as he could. The gap between the three drivers extended to 10
seconds, but with only the two Superspecials remaining on leg two, the scene
was set for a thrilling finale on the final day's 62 competitive kilometres.
At the top of the leaderboard, Loeb recorded his fourth stage win of the leg
and pulled 1min 2.2sec clear of Gronholm in second.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 13:49.4
SS15/16: 1635/39hrs Superspecial 3/4 (2.21km)
The final two tests of the day were run together at the Superspecial in
Leon. In front of a huge crowd, the crews completed two laps of the mixed
surface spectator stage as SS15 before switching lanes and repeating the
course as SS16. Gains over such a short distance were slim, but in the
battle for the final podium position, Sordo did enough to re-take third
place from Hirvonen.
Fastest times: SS15 Sordo (Citroen) 1:44.6 / SS16 Wilson (Ford) 01:43.3
Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, Richard Taylor: "We continue to be very pleased with the performance of our new car here in Mexico. Chris is still in a strong fifth place, only 12 seconds off third, despite losing a few seconds this afternoon with an intermittent drop in power. We will fix that tonight in service so, with more than 60km of stages to run tomorrow, a podium finish is still a possibility."
Chris Atkinson: "We're still in the fight, that's the main thing. We had a bit of a technical problem on the first stage after service this afternoon. It cost us a bit of time on the subsequent stages as well and we haven't been able to push as hard as we wanted to. Somehow we're still only a few seconds behind the guys in front, so if it's working well tomorrow, then we've still got a chance of a podium finish. We'll just have to wait and see how it feels on the first corner. For sure, we'll do all we can to get the best possible finish tomorrow."
The third and final day of Rally Mexico comprises just four special stages. Three of the tests -- Leon, Gaunajuatito and Comanjilla -- have not been used during the previous two days of competition. To finish the event, the crews will tackle the Superspecial in Leon once again, although this time the two halves of the stage will be combined to make a 4.42km route.