At the end of the first day of the Swedish Rally, Petter Solberg holds second position overall, just 0.2 seconds off Marcus Gronholm's overall lead. Demonstrating an impressive pace aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004, the Norwegian took two stage wins and set a string of top-three times. Making their Swedish Rally debuts with the team, Chris Atkinson and Stephane Sarrazin concentrated on gaining experience of the specialist conditions in their Impreza WRCs. Building in confidence with every stage, the pair ended the Leg well inside the top-20 and are looking for further improvement tomorrow.
SS1: 0900 Likenas 1 (21.78km)
Despite overnight temperatures plummeting to -11C, weather conditions in the weeks prior to the start of the Swedish Rally had been milder than in previous years. As a result there were fewer snow banks lining the stage, which drivers normally use to guide their cars round corners at maximum speed. Two centimeters of snow covered a hard-packed ice gravel base throughout the 21.78km test, which included a new 4km narrow section at the start and a sprint through a rally cross circuit 1km from the finish. Setting an average speed of 106.49kph, Petter Solberg was fastest in his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 to finish 5.4 seconds ahead of second placed Sebastien Loeb and take an early lead. Daniel Carlsson was third fastest. Making his competitive debut with the Subaru team, and at the wheel of a WRC car for the first time, Australia's Chris Atkinson set off at an electrifying pace and recorded one of the fastest split times at the end of the first timed sector. However, an excursion into a snowy roadside ditch 7km from the start stopped his charge and the youngster lost about 20 seconds getting his car back onto the stage. Fortunately, despite collecting some bodywork damage and losing the glass from his door, the Impreza remained mechanically intact and Chris was able to push on. His team-mate Stephane Sarrazin, who was concentrating on gaining experience in his first competitive snow rally, was 21st. After the finish, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of SS2.Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 12:16.3
SS2: 1023 Hara 1 (11.32km)
Lying 60km further south than SS1, there was less snow on the short 11.32km stage from Hara and crews faced a hard-packed base of ice and gravel. Petter Solberg was again fastest to increase his overall lead to 7.5 seconds, while Loeb was second fastest and Carlsson third. Competing as a nominated driver for Ford on this event, Petter's brother Henning Solberg was tenth fastest, but reported that his Focus was suffering with an oil problem. There were problems too for Skoda driver Jani Paasonen when a stall on the start line cost him around eight seconds. There were no leading retirements and after the stage, which fittingly ended in the village of 'Solberg', crews drove 21km to the start of SS3.Fastest Stage Time:Solberg (Subaru) 6:03.1
SS3: 1105 Torntorp 1 (19.21km)
Including a series of 300 metre straights with big crests, followed by a technical, rocky section through to the finish, the first pass through the stage from Torntorp featured more hard packed gravel and ice. Three-times Swedish Rally winner, Marcus Gronholm was fastest, with Loeb second and Peugeot's Markko Martin and Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli setting exactly the same time for third. Skoda driver Mattias Ekstrom was sixth fastest, while Petter Solberg, who was unhappy with the suspension changes he made to his Impreza on the road section before the start of SS3, was seventh. There were problems for Carlsson, Roman Kresta, Mikko Hirvonen and Kristian Sohlberg, who all clipped a big rock on the inside of a fast left-hand corner mid-stage. Carlsson's Bozian-prepared Peugeot 307 sustained suspension damage, while Mikko Hirvonen's Ford lost a wheel in the incident and the young Finn dropped more than two minutes to the leaders. After the stage was complete, crews returned to Hagfors for a 30-minute service.Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 9:45.8
SS4: 1346 Likenas 2 (21.78km)
As the air temperature rose to 2C for the second run through the northerly Likenas stage, patches of gravel became exposed along some sections of the racing line. Despite the chilly conditions, hundreds of spectators had turned out to see their favourite rally drivers, with most congregating in the purpose build spectator area 1km from the finish. Running fourth of the road, Scandinavian Marcus Gronholm was fastest, with Gigi Galli second fastest and Petter Solberg third, which was enough to move the Norwegian back up to second place overall. Citroen's Sebastien Loeb overshot a junction in his Xsara and went off the road into a ditch. He was able to continue, but lost 15 seconds overall, while Kristian Sohlberg lost time with a gearbox problem. Subaru signings Atkinson and Sarrazin continued to build experience in the specialist conditions and completed the stage, 21 seconds and 36 seconds off the winning pace respectively. After the stage was complete, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of SS5. Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 12:06.7
SS5: 1509 Hara 2 (11.32km)
Repeated use of the short 11km Hara stage meant an increasing amount of gravel had been pulled to the surface and, before cars even began the second pass, as much as 75 percent of the driving line was hard-packed gravel, rather than snow. In addition, the lack of snow banks meant the route was almost double the width it had been in previous years. Loeb was fastest to take his first win of the day, while Skoda's Jani Paasonen was second quickest and Petter Solberg third, 0.1 seconds quicker than big brother Henning, who was fourth. As new Subaru recruits Chris and Stephane continued to build in confidence, the duo finished seventeenth and twenty-first respectively. Finland's Kristian Sohlberg retired with a broken gearbox in his Focus WRC02 and, after the finish, the remaining crews moved to the start of SS6.Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 5:55.7
SS6: 1551 Torntorp 2 (19.21km)
As the sun began to set over the service area at Hagfors, the air temperature dropped to 0C and competitors began the second pass through the icy test from Torntorp. Negotiating the stage's tricky blend of long crests and technical, narrow sections, Gigi Galli was fastest, while Petter Solberg was second to snatch back the overall lead from Gronholm. Loeb was third, while Ford's Henning Solberg collected a puncture on one of the many loose rocks that lined the roadside and finished 25.5 seconds off the winning pace. Chris Atkinson lost a little time when he slid wide on a left-hand corner but, once again, he was quickly back on the road and up to speed. After the stage was complete, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of SS7.Fastest Stage Time: Galli (Mitsubishi) 9:47.6
SS7: 1710 Hagfors Sprint 1 (1.86km)
With the 1.86km Hagfors Sprint having been sprayed with water prior to the start, it featured a 15cm base of solid ice. Negotiating the stage's slippery straights interspersed with ninety-degree bends, Loeb was fastest, with Duval second and Gronholm third. The Finn's time was enough to claw back the overall lead from Petter, but only by the slimmest of margins. At the finish, just 0.2 seconds separated the pair with a competitive distance of 250km remaining. Sarrazin was tenth fastest, with his team-mate Atkinson eighteenth. After the stage was complete, crews returned to Hagfors for a 45-minute service, before driving the 80km road section back to Karlstad for the overnight parc ferme.Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 2:05.1
A very interesting day! Too bad I lost some time on the third stage, but apart from that everything has been okay. So far, for me, this has been one of my best Sweden Rallies. It's a great atmosphere out there, lots of Norwegian people, lots of support - it's incredible. There's a lot of changing conditions on the stages, changing grip levels all the time, even between each car, so I'm quite happy to find a driving style that works quite well. There's been no big attack yet, but it will happen sometime in the next two days.
It was good today, difficult certainly, but I'm here to learn and I think I've made some little improvements with every stage. I'm not completely happy with my performance, as I don't think I pushed hard enough in some places, but it is only the first day and I hope to keep making little changes and increasing the speed tomorrow and on Sunday.
It's been a pretty interesting day, my first time in a WRC car and the first time here in Sweden. Overall I feel pretty good about the way it's gone, sure there have been a few ups and downs, but that's all part of the learning curve. Some places today I felt my driving came together well, it was all there, while at other times I had to throttle right back and re-gain the feeling before increasing the speed again. To be one second off the pace was no surprise, I know I have the speed when everything comes together, and tomorrow I'm hoping to learn and improve some more.
Team Principal, David Lapworth
We knew Leg one would be very difficult, so of course we're very happy to end it in such a strong position. Adapting to the difficult stage conditions and learning how to get the best from the tyres were two of the biggest challenges and Petter has done a great job to judge things so well. It was always going to be an interesting fight on these roads, especially with the conditions changing so much with every kilometre, but we'll start Leg two with more knowledge and confidence. Stephane and Chris have both done well. The plan was for them to take things carefully and get experience of the new tyres and conditions - for Chris it was also his first time in a WRC car. The pace that they've achieved, often within a second per kilometre of the top guys, has been impressive and I'm sure they'll continue to raise the pace over the next two days.
News from Pirelli
, Pirelli Motorsport Director:
In view of the unexpectedly difficult weather, we are very pleased that our tyres have been extremely competitive in the mixed conditions of Leg one. Petter has every chance of obtaining a fantastic result here and we'll be doing our best to give him the equipment he needs to do the job.
Saturday 12 February
Will start tomorrow at 0550hrs, when the first car will leave Karlstad parc ferme. Following a ten-minute service, crews will contest a further seven stages, based around the single service park in Hagfors, and a competitive distance of 139.53 kilometres. The longest leg of the rally, Leg two also includes the longest stage of the day, the 26.40km test from Lejen. The day will conclude with a final sprint through the 1.85km Hagfors Super Special and a 45-minute scheduled service.