Leg one of Rally Sweden proved disappointing and frustrating for Subaru World Rally Team drivers Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson. Last year's winner Solberg ended the day 21st overall after mechanical problems prevented him from showing the ...
Leg one of Rally Sweden proved disappointing and frustrating for Subaru World Rally Team drivers Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson. Last year's winner Solberg ended the day 21st overall after mechanical problems prevented him from showing the potential of the new Impreza WRC2006. An impressive start for Chris Atkinson came to an end on the first corner of SS3 when a collision with a tree broke his car's power steering rack. Atkinson paid a heavy price for the mistake and dropped more than five minutes as he negotiated the rest of the loop with no power assistance. He ended the day in 26th place.
SS1: 0801 Fredriksberg 1 (18.14km)
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 10:25.7
After leaving parc ferme in Hagfors, Rally Sweden started with the snow-covered 18km Fredriksberg stage that skirted round the edge of a lake. There was disappointment for Subaru's Petter Solberg right after the start, however, when a left-rear driveshaft broke seven kilometres into the stage. The Norwegian was able to continue to the end of the stage, but dropped nearly one minute to eventual stage winner Marcus Gronholm. Chris Atkinson was pleased with the sixth-fastest stage time, despite stalling at a hairpin. Citroen privateer Sebastien Loeb was second fastest, just over five seconds faster than Gronholm's team-mate Mikko Hirvonen.
SS2: 0901 Lejen 1 (26.47km)
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 14:20.9
Ford's Gronholm scored his second stage win of the day through Lejen, one of the quickest stages of the event, with an average speed of 118kph. Petter Solberg pressed on to complete the stage, but his time was nearly two minutes slower than Gronholm's and he continued to drop down the overall classification. Once more Loeb and Hirvonen were second and third quickest. Loeb was handed a 10 second penalty for arriving at the stage start one minute late. He had stopped to re-secure the bonnet of his car which had flipped up and broken the windscreen. Australian Chris Atkinson drove neatly through the stage, to record the fifth-fastest time in the Subaru Impreza WRC2006.
SS3: 1209 Fredriksberg 2 (18.14km)
Fastest Time: Galli (Mitsubishi) 10:29.1
After a 30 minute service halt crews had a second run through the Fredriksberg pass due east of Hagfors. Mitsubishi privateer Gigi Galli scored his first stage win of the year ahead of ex-DTM champion Matthias Ekstrom and Citroen privateer Janne Tuohino. With the broken driveshaft fixed by Subaru technicians at service, Petter Solberg was ready to push hard but a stall on the start line cost him eight seconds. There were problems too for several other drivers, including Marcus Gronholm and Solberg's team-mate Chris Atkinson, who both ran wide at the same corner 100 metres from the start. Atkinson's car slid into a ditch and collided with a tree which broke the steering rack. The young Australian rejoined the road but lost more than three minutes as he battled to steer with no power assistance. Andreas Aigner also hit a snowbank and left the road. He rejoined after spectators helped the car back to the road.
SS4: 1309 Lejen 2 (26.47km)
Fastest Time: Loeb (Kronos) 14:24.4
Drivers reported more ruts and patches of hard-packed gravel on the second pass through Lejen, but with temperatures still well below freezing, the ice and snow remained. Loeb posted his first stage win of the day, just over a second faster than Gronholm. The Finn however retained the lead of the rally from Loeb by just over 11secs. There were changes to the overall classification as Gigi Galli jumped to fourth and closed the gap to third-placed Hirvonen to just over five seconds. Swede Daniel Carlsson also moved up the order, as he leapfrogged Ekstrom for fifth with the third-fastest stage time. Chris Atkinson and co-driver Glenn Macneall collected 30 seconds of penalty time after their roadside attempts to repair the steering rack made them three minutes late to the stage start. After another 26km without power steering, he and the other competitors headed back to Hagfors for a 30 minute service. There were more problems for Solberg when he stopped! on the road section, two kilometres from his destination, with gear selection problems. After manually selecting first gear he completed the journey but was 13 minutes late and was given 2 min 10 secs of penalty time.
SS5: 1549 Vargasen 1 (39.95km)
Fastest Time: Loeb (Kronos) 20:40.5
Chris Atkinson was given a penalty when he checked out of service two minutes late after technicians raced to repair the car and replace the power steering rack. On the stage, Mikko Hirvonen stopped two kilometres from the end with an overheating engine. He retired from the Leg. Hirvonen's problems elevated Galli to third and Carlsson to fourth, while Gronholm continued to lead the rally over Loeb. Remarkably the duo finished the 40km stage separated by less than one second.
SS6: 1707 Hagfors Sprint 1 (1.87km)
Fastest Time: Loeb (Kronos) 1:54.7
The final stage of the day was the popular Hagfors Sprint, run on an ice field close to the service park. With an average speed of just over 50kph, the test was the slowest of the event. An estimated 8,000 spectators flocked to the small arena - more than half the population of Hagfors. Loeb and Gronholm were once more the two fastest drivers, with the Frenchman taking the win by the narrowest of margins and closing the gap at the top of the leaderboard to just 10secs going into Leg two. Galli was third quickest to maintain his third position over Carlsson.
SWRT PERFORMANCE DIRECTOR, DAVID LAPWORTH: "Clearly it's not been one of our better days. And the fact that things were looking so promising after shakedown yesterday makes the end result even more disappointing. The most frustrating thing for us is that most of the problems we've experienced today are related to established carry over parts, not the new car teething problems you might expect to have. It's extremely frustrating for Petter. He deserves a better run than he's had in the last two rallies. Chris too has had a tough day. Physically, he's not feeling 100 percent and a high temperature and stomach pains mean he's had an uncomfortable time in the car. In these circumstances it's not surprising that he's found it difficult, and he paid a heavy price for a small mistake early in the day. Nevertheless Chris can still take a lot from this rally and the experience will be very valuable to his development. What Petter has to do now is take the opportunity to test and get more experience of the new car so he's ready to go out and win in Mexico."
PETTER SOLBERG: "It's such a shame that we weren't able to get the result we wanted today. The new car felt incredible yesterday and I was really excited about putting it to the test this morning. We've suffered more than our fair share of problems today and now we're in a position where we can't do anything other than test for the future. Of course we'll do what we can to learn and make the most of this opportunity but overall it's very disappointing."
CHRIS ATKINSON: "The day started out very well, and we were happy with the speed at the beginning but unfortunately a small mistake, and then the power steering problem as a result, cost us a lot of time. Otherwise I really think we could be in a position for a podium - the car and the tyres felt very good. I've just got to move on now and try to learn more over the rest of the weekend. It's a shame though; this was one of the events we were looking to get experience on and maybe a strong finish. In fact, it turned out that with our speed that we could have been heading for a really good result. I hope we can make more of the potential in Mexico."
NEWS FROM PIRELLI
MARIO ISOLA, PIRELLI COMPETIZIONI RALLY MANAGER: "The new studding system worked perfectly in the snowy conditions today and the technology involved in vulcanising the studs into the tyre meant crews no longer complained of many lost or broken studs. We were sorry to learn of Petter and Chris' problems today, but are confident they will come back strongly tomorrow."
Tomorrow's Leg starts at 0650 when crews leave parc ferme for a 20 minute service with the competitive action beginning at 0800 with the first of two passes through the Hara and Sundsjon stages. Crews will cover 127.80 competitive kilometres over seven stages, including a final blast through the Hagfors Sprint spectator stage.