Two weeks after Subaru claimed its 42nd WRC victory by winning the inaugural Rally Japan, the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship moves back to Europe for round twelve of the 16 event series, Wales Rally GB. Beginning on Thursday 16 September with...
Two weeks after Subaru claimed its 42nd WRC victory by winning the inaugural Rally Japan, the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship moves back to Europe for round twelve of the 16 event series, Wales Rally GB. Beginning on Thursday 16 September with a visit to the Super Special Stage in Cardiff, the gruelling three-day event is one of Britain's most popular sporting occasions.
Traditionally the final round of the Championship, Wales Rally GB is renowned for its wintry weather conditions and muddy gravel tracks that twist through the forests of South Wales. However, although the rally route remains similar for 2004, a calendar shift from November to the British autumn should mean the event will drier and warmer than usual.
Nonetheless, the famously unpredictable Welsh weather is still expected to bring a few surprises to competitors. While fog and ice are not likely hazards at this time of year, fluctuating temperatures, rain and bright sunshine are all factors to consider. As a result, road conditions may vary between hard-packed gravel and slippery mud to dry, abrasive, dusty tracks. Traditionally, the stages are fast and, if conditions are dry, average speeds are expected to be around five per cent quicker than last year's average of 108kph.
Comprising 394.03 competitive kilometres and 19 stages, the event is based around a single service park at Felindre, near Swansea. Leg one is made up of seven stages, including two passes through the longest of the event, the 32.48km stage from Rheola. The second Leg includes eight stages (three of which are repeated), while Leg three includes a four final tests. Rally headquarters will be based in Cardiff, 70km from the Felindre service park.
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Wales Rally GB, which will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Mikko Hirvonen (co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen).
Having won the event in 2002 and 2003, Petter Solberg will be aiming for his third Welsh victory this year to take a hat trick of Wales Rally GB wins. With only limited knowledge of the Welsh forest stages, Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen will be drawing on his experience of other gravel rallies, such as Mexico and New Zealand. Competing at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2004, the young Finn will be aiming to secure more Championship points.
"Japan was really very, very good, let me tell you. It was a difficult rally to drive, very technical, but everything worked well for us and it was great to take the win. I'm looking ahead now and getting ready for Wales Rally GB. It will be interesting this year due to the date change, but it doesn't matter to me if it's dry or wet on the stages - I love it! It's my favourite rally of the year. It's absolutely the best rally in the world and I have such great memories of being there. I can't wait to get back."
"I think the change of date for this year's Wales Rally GB should make it pretty interesting. If it's dry, it will be a good rally for me I think. The stages will be really fast and flowing, which suits my driving style. It's easier to find a driving rhythm in those conditions and you can go for it. It's the team's home event, which makes it a bit special and Subaru has a very good record there. The team showed what the Subaru Impreza WRC2004 is capable of on gravel in Finland and I know I'm going to be in a good car - so I'm looking forward to it."
The Car / The Challenge
, Team Principal
"One of the big differences about running the rally in September is that the range of weather conditions is potentially wider. In November, we know there will be rain and mud and so know exactly which type of tyre to use. However, in September it may be 25C and dry with hard-based, dusty stages, or it could rain heavily for three days and the stages could be similar to those used in November. That's going to be one of the interesting challenges of the rally because it's like a new event, but a very unpredictable new event.
"If it's dry, no one will have much experience about which tyres work best and what level of tyre wear to expect on the stages. It's been a wet summer so few people will have had the opportunity to test in dry conditions and certainly our testing was cooler and damper than it may be in the forests next week. Tyre selection is therefore likely to be quite difficult. Also, if the weather is constant teams will be compromised by the number of tyres available to them. Under the new rules we no longer have enough options to do the whole rally on the same type of tyre, so if we have three days of glorious sunshine or three days of pouring rain, then I think teams will struggle a little.
"Naturally, Wales Rally GB is one of our favourite events, not only because it's the home event for most of the team, but because of our great record there. We've now won seven out of the last nine WRC Rally GBs with the Subaru Impreza so obviously you can't help but look forward to it. Petter's very confident. If you look how fast he was in Finland, New Zealand and Mexico, we can't help but be confident, but we know it's a new rally and no one has any advantage. That said, the only way that Petter is going to win the Championship is to go for a win on every rally so he'll be looking to take his third consecutive Wales Rally GB win this year.
"It's an event that should suit Mikko. He likes wide, fast stages and drives confidently at high speed. That's one of the reasons we were attracted to him. With experience, he'll develop his speed on the twisty stuff, but you can't really teach somebody to go flat out. Mikko is good on the fast stuff, so I'd expect to see him challenging the established stars on some of the stages."