The Subaru World Rally Team came to Sweden to secure more solid points finishes and ended the first leg of the event with one car firmly in the top three and the other one just outside the top eight. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills seized the outright...
The Subaru World Rally Team came to Sweden to secure more solid points finishes and ended the first leg of the event with one car firmly in the top three and the other one just outside the top eight. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills seized the outright lead of the rally on the opening stage of the day, and stayed among the frontrunners, ending the leg third overall. Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall planned to make a cautious start to what is only their third snow rally, but steadily upped their pace during the day and finished leg one just 3sec away from a points-scoring position.
SS1: 2000HRS SUPER SPECIAL STAGE KARLSTAD 1 (1.90KM)
The Swedish Rally kicked off on Thursday night with a short Super Special
stage on the horse trotting track in the host city of Karlstad. Crews
tackled the floodlit stage in pairs, with Chris Atkinson up against
Manfred Stohl, and Petter Solberg taking on his brother, Henning. Times
were extremely close over the 1.9km stage, but Petter ended the day as
the leading Subaru, setting the third-fastest time. Chris cleared the
stage with the 13th fastest time.
Fastest time: Gardemeister (Mitsubishi) 01:31.9
SS2: 0844HRS LIKENAS 1 (21.78KM)
Leg one re-started on Friday morning with Likenas -- the first 'proper'
stage of the rally. After some snow flurries overnight, organisers sent
the scraper truck through the stage four hours before it was run, but a
subsequent dusting made the route slippery in places. Petter Solberg
moved into the overall lead after winning the stage by 5.6sec. A
delighted Solberg said it was: "Not a bad start to the rally!" Still
relatively inexperienced on snow, Chris Atkinson adopted a cautious
approach but completed the test without incident in the eleventh fastest
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 14:13.1
SS3: 1006HRS HARA 1 (11.32KM)
After a refuelling halt and a 60km road section, crews tackled Hara, a
narrow and technical sprint along forest roads. Stage conditions were
similar to SS2, with a thin layer of powdery snow on top of a harder
base. Petter Solberg piloted his Impreza WRC2006 through in the
fifth-fastest time to maintain his position as overall leader, while
Chris Atkinson continued to ease himself into the event, taking few
chances and setting the 11th fastest time.
Fastest time: Galli (Citroen) 6:22.8
SS4: 1044HRS TORNTORP 1 (19.21KM)
Torntorp 1 was the iciest of the morning group of stages and with a
narrow, rock-lined route, allowed little margin for error. As drivers
adapted to the specialist conditions, there was another different stage
winner -- the fourth from four tests -- but Petter Solberg's consistency
ensured he kept his position as overall leader: "I'm struggling a
little in the narrow stuff, but overall it's good -- I'm quite happy!"
he said. Chris Atkinson posted his best time of the rally so far, taking
ninth on the stage. After the finish control, crews drove a 16km road
section to Hagfors and a 30-minute service.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 9:56.8
SS5: 1327HRS LIKENAS 2 (21.78KM)
After service, crews drove 81km north back to Likenas to repeat the first
stage of the day. Road conditions were very different for the second
passage and drivers reported a softer surface which didn't provide much
grip -- even with spiked tyres. Despite setting the second fastest time,
Petter said: "It was very difficult, there wasn't enough traction,
especially under braking, and I feel I lost a lot there." He slipped to
second overall, 1.2sec behind Marcus Gronholm. Chris Atkinson's pace
continued to improve and he recorded the sixth fastest time. "It was
certainly more difficult than the first pass," he said. "There were
some deep ruts, and patches of ice and gravel in places. It was pretty
hard on the tyres."
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 12:21.5
SS6: 1449HRS HARA 2 (11.32KM)
The sixth stage of the Swedish Rally was a repeat of the short Hara
section, run earlier in the day as SS3. Atkinson and Solberg set the
sixth and seventh fastest times respectively and held their overall
placings. Elsewhere, another fastest time from Gronholm meant he extended
his overall rally lead to 8.3sec, while Sebastien Loeb shot from fifth
overall to third, 8.3 sec behind Solberg.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 06:10.2
SS7: 1528HRS VARGASEN 1 (24.63KM)
After two repeated stages, the penultimate test of the Leg was a fresh
challenge and featured a surface that had been scraped clean earlier in
the day. The longest stage of the Leg, Vargasen was last run in this
year's format in 2005 and is famous for a huge jump 10km from the start
known as 'Colin's Crest' after a gravity defying perfomance from the
ex-Subaru World Champion. After stalling on Thursday's Super Special,
and dropping to 20th place overall, Loeb won his second stage of the day
and moved up the leaderboard, ahead of Petter Solberg, into second place.
Chris had a trouble-free run and set the ninth-fastest time.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 13:57.7
SS8: 1646HRS HAGFORS SPRINT 1 (1.87KM)
As darkness fell, and with spotlights blazing, drivers tackled the final
test of the day -- the tight and twisty Hagfors Sprint. Although snow was
falling as the stage started, thousands of spectators braved the freezing
temperature to line the route and cheer on their favourite drivers.
Marcus Gronholm collected his third stage-win to stay in the lead by
11sec. Petter Solberg recorded the third-fastest time to hold his third
place overall, while Chris Atkinson was seventh on the stage to end the
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 2:00.0
Subaru World Rally Team managing director, Richard Taylor: "We're very pleased with the whole team performance today; Petter particularly has done an excellent job. It's great to be getting fastest stage times and competing at the top of the leaderboard again, and I think it's good for the whole WRC that the top ten is so close together. It's a very competitive event. Both cars have run reliably and our new BFGoodrich tyres have worked well for us, although we need to make a few more tweaks to the car to optimise the set-up on these tyres. But it is extremely positive to have led a rally in only the second event of our relationship with BFGoodrich and we're looking forward to the next couple of days."
Petter Solberg: "It's really, really tough on those stages, but I'm enjoying the fact that I am fighting in the top three. It was nice to lead a rally again on this morning's stages. Our current set is using up the tyres too quickly, that seems to be the same for Chris and I, but we can use the experience today to make different choices tomorrow."
Chris Atkinson: "We're a little bit further back that we'd like, but it's not the end of the world. We knew it would be a tough event so we've concentrated on keeping it tidy and driving consistently. Perhaps we were a little too cautious in some places but there are lots of quick locals out here trying to prove a point, I guess by Sunday we'll see how the strategy works."
All of the stages on Leg Two are situated in the countryside close to the service area at Hagfors. The day comprises seven timed stages, and ends with a repeat pass through the shortest test of the rally -- the 1.87km Hagfors Sprint. The total competitive distance is 141.96km and the action begins at 0803hrs with the 10km Lesjofors stage.