The Subaru World Rally Team entries of Petter Solberg/Phil Mills and Chris Atkinson/Stephane Prevot both came home inside the top ten after three days of hard driving in Sardinia. Both crews maintained their pace throughout the final six stages,...
The Subaru World Rally Team entries of Petter Solberg/Phil Mills and Chris Atkinson/Stephane Prevot both came home inside the top ten after three days of hard driving in Sardinia. Both crews maintained their pace throughout the final six stages, but did not take unnecessary risks because the two cars also have to be used on the forthcoming Rally of Greece. Petter and Phil moved up one place to fifth during the day, while Chris and Stephane moved up from an overnight twelfth position to end the event tenth.
SS13: 0755HRS S. GIOVANNI 1 (10.66KM)
Conditions for the final leg of the rally remained dry and warm and the sun was shining as crews left the overnight parc ferme from 0700hrs. Sunday's stages were generally faster and featured a harder road surface than the southern stages of legs one and two. The first challenge of the day, the 10km Giovanni section, has two distinct halves. To begin with the road is open, flowing and almost like Argentina in places. But after 6km the character changes completely and it becomes narrow and very tricky - the most difficult part of the day according to Chris Atkinson's co-driver Stephane Prevot. It was here that Sebastien Loeb's event came to a premature end -- the overnight leader spinning his C4 and getting stuck in a ditch. This elevated Marcus Gronholm into the lead, even though the Finn lost 17sec seconds with a spin of his own. Subaru's Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson were sixth and ninth fastest respectively. Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 7m 21.9s
SS14: 0906HRS MONTE NURAGONE 1 (7.67KM)
Monte Nuragone is another of the rally's faster stages and much of it is based next to a quarry, on roads that have been broken up by the passage of earth moving trucks. With Gronholm and team-mate Mikko Hirvonen relatively secure in first and second places, the battle for third between Sordo and Henning Solberg was the main focus of attention on the second stage - the shortest of the event. Henning won the stage -- his first of the rally -- but his closest rival wasn't Sordo, it was his younger brother Petter. Forty seconds behind the duelling pair, and with 36 stage kilometres remaining, the lead Subaru driver kept the pressure on. Fastest time: H. Solberg (Ford) 5m 37.3s
SS15: 0950HRS BRANIATOGGHIU 1 (9.04KM)
The final stage of the morning loop was another high-speed sprint though relatively open countryside. The road surface of Braniatogghiu is one of the hardest of the event and a thick layer of dust on the top put the first cars through at a disadvantage as they swept the route clean for those following. Running as second car on the road, Subaru's Chris Atkinson was one of the worst affected, but the Australian still managed to set the eighth fastest time. After retiring from the first leg, Atkinson had recovered well and was back up to 11th overall, and on course for a points finish. Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 4m 38.0s
SS16: 1057HRS S. GIOVANNI 2 (10.66KM)
After SS15, at the halfway point of the day, competitors drove to the town of Arzachena for a refuelling stop. >From there, they returned to Giovanni for the first stage of the repeat loop. Unusually, the Sardinian schedule did not include a 30-minute service between the sections, so competitors used the same tyres and fundamental car set-up for both. Dani Sordo and Henning Solberg were the quickest drivers, setting the first and second best times respectively, while Petter Solberg was third. Another solid time from Chris Atkinson moved him up one more place and into the top-ten. Fastest time: Sordo (Citroen) 7m 06.4s
SS17: 1208HRS MONTE NURAGONE 2 (7.67KM)
The penultimate stage brought no upsets to the top ten. The battle for third between Henning Solberg and Dani Sordo raged on and they were the fastest drivers through, Solberg ahead on this occasion by just 0.1seconds. Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson drove cleanly through the test, but had no opportunity to make up further places. Fastest time: H. Solberg (Ford) 5m 29.4s
SS18: 1252HRS BRANIATOGGHIU 2 (9.04KM)
The rally's final test was a repeat of the Braniatogghiu stage, and over the last 9km nobody was prepared to take any unnecessary risks. Henning Solberg drove cautiously to consolidate fourth position while Sordo kept third, behind the Fords of Gronholm and Hirvonen who were first and second overall. Petter Solberg finished fifth, while Chris Atkinson in the second Subaru also collected points when he crossed the line in tenth overall. Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 4m 31.3s
Subaru World Rally Team managing director, Richard Taylor: "We've got to the end of the rally with both cars in the top ten, and with Petter and Chris scoring useful manufacturer championship points. At the same time, it is clear that we still have work to do to achieve consistent podium pace, however our engineers have got very positive ideas on how we can increase the speed of our 2007 car."
Petter Solberg: "Today was all about making sure we got to the end of the rally and preserving the car for the Rally of Greece in two weeks. The stages on this leg were fast and narrow, so we knew that any mistakes could have cost us heavily. Although there was a chance we could have caught Henning (Solberg) if we went on the attack, we just couldn't afford to take that risk. It's been an up-and-down rally. Once again the pace we've shown at the start of the event has been encouraging for us. The task now is to get to a point where we can maintain that speed throughout the event. There's still some work to do, but we're getting there and the team is working harder than ever."
Chris Atkinson: "We expected it to be a tough day, but we also saw how important it is to keep plugging away, because we ended up scoring a point for Subaru in the manufacturers championship. Hitting those rocks on SS5 was a big setback for our rally and I'm disappointed in light of the competitive stage times we set on the first morning. Those times were a clear sign of this car's potential, because both myself and Petter were setting top-four times at one point. Now we'll get our heads down and try to get the car right for Rally of Greece."
BFGoodrich tyre technician, Didier Martin: "It was a very tough rally for everyone involved with the team, but both cars made it to the finish. I think the most important thing to look at is how the Subaru seems to work well on our new hard compound tyre. That bodes well for Rally of Greece, where we expect conditions to be very rough and particularly demanding for the tyres."
The next event
Round eight of the World Rally Championship is a famous rally in a famous location. The Acropolis Rally of Greece takes place from June 1-3, so the Subaru World Rally Team has no time to relax. The picturesque special stages are situated outside of the Greek capital city, Athens, and the tests are well-known for their searingly hot temperatures and demanding terrain. It is one of the toughest events of the year, but this has not prevented the Impreza WRC from triumphing there in the past. Notable Subaru World Rally Team results: 1st 1994 (Carlos Sainz), 1996, 1998 (Colin McRae), 1999 (Richard Burns), 2004 (Petter Solberg).