Starters 68 crews left the service park at Mystery Creek, Hamilton, for the first leg of Rally New Zealand. Route The first leg took place to the south west of...
68 crews left the service park at Mystery Creek, Hamilton, for the first leg of Rally New Zealand.
The first leg took place to the south west of Hamilton, near an extinct volcano named Mount Pirongia. Crews tackled the Pirongia West and Waitomo stages twice before finishing the day with a blast through the Mystery Creek Super Special. Waitomo, at 43.88km, was the longest special stage of the rally.
Overnight rain had left the roads damp and muddy for the morning's stages, but by the time the crews returned to the same loop of tests in the afternoon, conditions were much drier. Temperatures ranged between 13 and 16 degrees Celsius.
Subaru World Rally Team summary
Subaru World Rally Team driver Chris Atkinson holds fourth position overall at the end of the first leg of Rally New Zealand. With Petter Solberg in seventh spot, the team has two cars within the top ten.
On only his third attempt at this event in a WRC car, 27-year-old Atkinson quickly adapted to the slippery, muddy conditions of the morning's stages, and consolidated his position with a trouble-free repeat performance on drier roads in the afternoon. He finished the day in the best possible way, by going fastest on the Super Special stage at Mystery Creek - taking his first stage win of the event and the 12th of his season so far. Well on the way to achieving his objective of a top-five finish, Atkinson is looking forward to Saturday's second leg, and especially the Franklin and Possum sections, both of which he was fastest on in 2006.
Petter Solberg had a more difficult day in the number seven Impreza. Although the 32-year-old Norwegian was fourth-fastest on SS3 and third-fastest on SS5, he struggled with the handling of his car for much of the day. Nevertheless, he remains less than 20sec off fifth place, and with more than 110 competitive kilometres still to run, he remains in contention for a good result.
After an encouraging start, the team's third driver, Xevi Pons, retired on third test of the day - the repeated Pirongia West section. A little over 3km from the start line, Pons' Impreza WRC2007 slid wide on a raised right-hand corner and left the road. The car was completely undamaged in the incident, and stopped just a few metres from the stage, but it had become beached on some very soft ground. Unable to rejoin the road the 28-year-old Spaniard had no option but to call in the recovery truck and retire from the Leg. Under Superally regulations, he will re-start the rally on Saturday.
SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM MANAGING DIRECTOR RICHARD TAYLOR:
"While we've been unable to show the rally-winning pace we're striving for, we're pleased with Chris's fourth place, which gives him an advantageous road position for leg two and puts him on target for a good points-finish. Clearly it's tough to match the pace of the top three cars, but we're encouraged by what Chris is achieving. Petter hasn't felt quite comfortable with the car today but still has the potential for a points finish. After going very well this morning it was unfortunate for Xevi that a small mistake cost him so heavily, but we'll see him back on the stages tomorrow."
"It's going well. We're in fourth place which isn't bad. I think it's maybe the best we could have hoped for. It's a bit similar to Finland, where we were fourth for most of the rally, except this time there are a lot more quick drivers close behind us. The first three stages tomorrow are good for me, we won two of them last year but then I broke a wheel, so I don't have any experience of the last two, which will make it tricky. But hopefully we can hold the position, that's all we can do. Mikko, Marcus and Sebastien are too quick for us at the moment, but we'll keep pushing, that's for sure."
"I did the best I could today. There isn't really much more I can say. I wasn't comfortable with the handling of the car for most of the leg. I'm feeling a lot of over-steer and not so much grip from the front, and that doesn't give me the confidence to push. Again, we'll try a couple of things tonight to see if that improves the situation for tomorrow, and I'll just keep pushing as hard as I can. That's all I can do."
"I went off the road because my pace note was not precise enough. I was braking for a slow left-hand corner but got onto the wrong line, went off the road a couple of metres and it wasn't possible to get going again. I'm disappointed, but okay, tomorrow is another day and it's important for me to get more experience of these roads in this car. It's very important because it's my first real chance to improve my driving on medium-slow corners -- which we didn't see much of in Finland. This morning we had a little too much under-steer, but at the first service we altered the set-up a little and the car felt much better to drive. I'm hoping that we can improve some more tomorrow."
Leg two is based to the north west of Hamilton and comprises some fantastic stages along the coastal roads near the Tasman Sea. Some of the stunning scenery near SS6 was featured in the Lord of the Rings movies. There are six stages, including another run through the Mystery Creek Super Special. None of the stages are repeated, so road position could be crucial on this leg.