After an impressive and measured performance at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2003, Petter Solberg of the 555 Subaru World Rally Team holds overnight third place, lying just 5.5 seconds behind Markko Martin, who is second. His team-mate Tommi...
After an impressive and measured performance at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2003, Petter Solberg of the 555 Subaru World Rally Team holds overnight third place, lying just 5.5 seconds behind Markko Martin, who is second. His team-mate Tommi Makinen, a previous winner of the event, is in seventh place and is well positioned ahead of tomorrow's action.
SS1 0943hrs Batley 1 (19.82km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 10.45.2 Following light showers, fairly damp conditions greeted the drivers on the first test of the day. Running at the front of the field Peugeot's Richard Burns and Citroen's Colin McRae struggled to find grip on the hard surface under the loose gravel and the pair dropped 15.9 seconds and 28.3 seconds respectively to stage winner, Marcus Gronholm. Previous three-times Rally New Zealand winner McRae also suffered with a spin early in the stage. Capitalising on his lower running position and the resultant cleaner roads, Markko Martin, competing in the new Ford Focus RS WRC03, was second fastest. Not such a great start for the Hyundai team. After only completing 12km of the event's competitive distance, Armin Schwarz's Accent hit a bank which ripped the front right wheel from his car and forced the German into retirement.
SS2 1011hrs Waipu Gorge 1 (11.24km)
Fastest time: Richard Burns (Peugeot) 6:37.0
As falling rain packed down the loose gravel, front runner Richard Burns set out to prove that running at the front was no disadvantage and the Brit stormed through the short Waipu Gorge test to take the stage win. More problems for Colin McRae in his Citroen Xsara, however. With all three Citroen drivers suffering with misting windscreens, the Scot managed only fifteenth fastest, and dropped a further 19.4 seconds to overall leader Marcus Gronholm. In a similar incident, Ford's Mikko Hirvonen was forced to complete the rain-soaked test with no windscreen wipers. He finished 18th. There were no such troubles for Subaru drivers Petter Solberg and Tommi Makinen and the duo expertly negotiated the test to finish fourth and fifth fastest respectively.
SS3 1034hrs Brooks 1 (16.03km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 9:46.3
Gronholm was quickest on the third test, while a storming run from Subaru's Petter Solberg saw the Norwegian finish second. Rovanpera was third. Despite the intermittent falling rain, the stage brought no change to the overall top five places although Citroen's Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae continued to suffer with misting windscreen problems in their Xsaras. The team-mates finished only ninth and twelfth fastest, dropping more time to the overall leaders. At the finish, Colin was 1 minute 9.7 seconds behind Marcus. This was the stage that Francois Delecour went off in his Peugeot in 2000, but this year saw no leading retirements and, after the finish, crews made their way back to Paparoa for the second scheduled service of the day.
SS4 1147 hrs New Cassidy (21.64km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 12:13.7
Following Solberg's promise in service B (before SS4) that he was going to get into a good rhythm on this event, the Norwegian did just that in SS4 and stormed through to finish third fastest. At the end of the test, he lay just 1.1 seconds off overall second. Front-runners Burns and McRae struggled to find traction in the deep loose gravel that covered the final ten kilometres of the test and finished only twelfth and thirteenth fastest respectively. More problems for the Ford team, this time for Francois Duval. The Belgian was forced to use the back-up manual gear change system in his Ford Focus WRC03, after picking up a problem at the end of SS3. He finished the stage eighteenth.
SS5 1300hrs Paparoa Station 1 (11.64km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 6:18.2 With no scheduled service until after SS5, Duval had to continue to drive his Ford using the car's manual gear system, and dropped another 30 seconds. At the end of the test, he lay in seventeenth overall. No such problems for rally leader Marcus Gronholm. The Finn, who was obviously relishing the roads on which he won last year, was again quickest and took his fourth stage win of the leg. With his earlier windscreen problems behind him, a rejuvenated Colin McRae was second fastest, with Burns third. Subaru's Tommi Makinen continued his excellent run and finished sixth fastest. The Finn had complained of sickness earlier in the day, but remained competitive in his Impreza WRC2003.
SS6 1436hrs Batley 2 (19.82km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 10:33.0
The second run through the fast Batley test brought the second leading retirement of the day when Colin McRae's rally came to an abrupt end 2.6km in. Charging through the test, the Scot's Xsara jumped at the exit of a corner, landed heavily and hit a bank. The impact caused extensive damage to the front-left suspension of his Citroen and, although the Scot completed the stage, he was unable to continue. There were no other leading mechanical problems, but Duval picked up a 20 second penalty after leaving Service C late while essential repairs were made to his Ford's gear box. Gronholm was again quickest to take the stage win and capitalising on the cleaner re-used road, slashed 12.2 seconds from his previous stage time (SS1). Temperatures in the stage remained around 16 degrees.
SS7 1504hrs Waipu Gorge 2 (11.24km)
Fastest time: Richard Burns (Peugeot) 6:34.9
No dramas on the second run through the Waipu Gorge, the 11.24 test which ran with a rock face on one side on the road and a drop into a river on the other. Repeating his earlier performance Richard Burns was fastest, closely followed by team-mate Gronholm, who was second. Competing in the new Ford Focus, the narrow bridges and sharp corners, made slippery by the earlier rain, proved no problem for Markko Martin and the Estonian continued his steady run to finish third fastest. Subaru drivers Petter and Tommi were fifth and sixth fastest respectively.
SS8 1527hrs Brooks 2 (16.03km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 9:22.9
With temperatures remaining at around 17 degrees for the penultimate stage, Gronholm was again fastest through the Brooks test to notch up his seventh stage win of the day. Richard Burns was second, and moved up to fourth overall. As the skies cleared, hundred of fans turned out to see their favourite rally drivers drive through the technical test, with most congregating around the famous railway bridge jump, located just 200m from the finish line. Petter Solberg continued to put in an excellent performance at the wheel of his Impreza and finished third fastest.
SS9 1555hrs Paparoa Station 2 (11.64km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 6:11.7
This was the stage that Didier Auriol went off in 1999 in his SEAT, but there were no dramas on today's run, the final test of the day. Gronholm was fastest to secure the overnight lead by 38.1 seconds and take his seventh stage win. He will start fifteenth on the road tomorrow as rally leader. Markko Martin was fourth fastest to secure second, while Petter Solberg finished the day in third position overall, just 5.5 seconds behind Martin. Tommi was ninth to secure overall seventh.
Team Quotes David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "It's a been a good solid performance from the team today. Petter's third place is exactly in line with our plan. He's finished the day in a strong position and has taken no major risks. Our aim is to maintain that consistency tomorrow. Tommi made a good start also and has generally had a trouble free run. The times on the last section were a little disappointing, but we're making a few minor changes to his car in final service this evening, and have every reason to believe that he will be fighting for a strong position tomorrow."
Petter Solberg: "It's been a really good day and the car has run well all day. The plan was not for maximum attack today and I'm happy that we've had no dramas. The plan for tomorrow is to do exactly the same and then see where we are compared to everyone else on Sunday. I've definitely got nothing to complain about and I'm looking forward to Leg 2."
Tommi Mäkinen: "It's been good today. I felt a bit off colour this morning and tyre choice has been very difficult due to the constantly changing weather conditions - it was almost a matter of luck where you were on the stage today when the rain came through. But, we're still feeling confident. We're making some minor adjustments to the car this evening and I will be attacking from the outset tomorrow."
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "Tyre choice for today has been very difficult with both drivers trying to anticipate the weather conditions. Petter chose the P0 KM tyre with a medium range of compound for the first five stages. Tommi made a different decision, and chose the P0 K pattern tyre; again with a medium compound range. For the second set of stages (SS6-SS9), both drivers retained their pattern choice but changed to use a harder compound of tyre. During the day, only Tommi has encountered a puncture, but the emi system worked perfectly, and no time was lost."