Chris Atkinson is heading the Subaru World Rally Team's campaign. The young Australian reprised his level-headed performance on last month's Rallye Monte Carlo with another consistent display and vaulted from ninth to sixth in the overall standings. He ended the day just 8.6sec behind fifth-placed Daniel Carlsson, with five stages left to run tomorrow. There was disappointment for Petter Solberg, who got stuck in a ditch on SS10 and lost almost 14 minutes. With no chance of clawing his way back into the points, the team opted to withdraw Petter from the rally and conserve his car for next week's Rally Norway.
SS9: 0803HRS LESJOFORS (10.49KM)
Leg Two began with a short 10km sprint. Seventh driver through, Chris
Atkinson said: "It was a pretty ordinary drive, I went wide a few times
and lost three or four seconds. I might as well have been driving to the
shops." In fact, the 27-year-old set the sixth-fastest time, and moved
up a place to eighth overall. Running 13th on the road, Petter Solberg
was happy but already focusing on SS10: "We're going to try hard on the
long one. I want to get back on the top. I'll see what I can do."
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 5:45.1
SS10: 0843HRS LILJENDAL (34.54KM)
Stage 10 was the longest of the Swedish Rally, and a tricky blend of old
and new sections. Chris Atkinson posted the sixth-fastest time once
again. "I tried to keep it good and tidy," he said. "But I could have
done with more traction, I couldn't push as hard as I'd have liked in
some places." But the stage had serious consequences for the podium
battle when Petter's Subaru slid off the road and got stuck in a snowy
ditch for nearly 14min. A group of more than 20 spectators eventually
managed to push the undamaged Impreza back onto the road, but by then his
chances of a good result had slipped away and he crossed the line 14min
24sec adrift of the lead.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 17:50.3
SS11: 11.13HRS TORNTORP 2 (19.21KM)
After a 30-minute service halt, crews headed out for a loop of two timed
stages, both run previously on leg one. First up was Torntorp. Solberg's
focus switched to testing for the forthcoming Norwegian rally, his home
event. Nevertheless, he set the sixth-fastest time, four seconds quicker
than his team-mate, Chris Atkinson, who was tenth-fastest. Atkinson said:
"We lost a little time towards the end of the stage, but we're only
halfway through the rally, so we'll keep pushing."
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 9m 35.0s
SS12: 1145HRS VARGASEN 2 (24.63KM)
The repeated Vargasen stage proved extremely popular with spectators, and
thousands of them tramped through the snow to watch the cars on the dips,
junctions, and the spectacular 'Colin's Crest' jump. Chris Atkinson
led the Subaru World Rally Team's charge, and completed the stage in the
seventh-fastest time, to maintain the same position on the overall
leaderboard. Stage winner Marcus Gronholm consolidated his lead of the
rally. As cars headed back to Hagfors for another 30-minute service,
Gronholm's overall lead stood at 27sec from second-placed Sebastien
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 13:17.9
SS13: 1428HRS FREDRIKSBERG (24.75KM)
The battle for sixth place between Chris Atkinson and Citroen driver
Daniel Carlsson intensified on SS13 when Atkinson chipped another two
seconds out of the Swede's advantage and reduced the gap to 16sec. But
for Petter Solberg, the Swedish Rally came to an end at the pre-stage
service, as Subaru team managing director Richard Taylor explained:
"After losing almost 14 minutes stuck in a ditch on SS10, and with it
any chance of a points scoring finish, we decided to withdraw Petter from
the remainder of the rally in order to preserve his car, tyres and major
components such as the transmission, all of which, under WRC regulations,
must be used in next week's Rally Norway. The decision was taken
reluctantly but we felt it was necessary to give Petter the best possible
chance of achieving a podium finish on his home event which starts in
just five days time."
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 13:54.4
SS14: 1533HRS LEJEN (26.47KM)
The 26km stage at Lejen is one of the quickest of the event, but seemed
to suit Chris Atkinson perfectly. The Australian wound up the pace to
record the fourth- fastest time -- his best of the event so far -- and
halve the gap to Carlsson to eight seconds. "We're trying our best out
there, pushing where we can, but keeping out of trouble," said Atkinson.
"It's not easy, but that stage felt good." While the battle with
Carlsson raged on, a drive-train problem cost Mitsubishi's Toni
Gardemeister two minutes and meant that Atkinson was now fighting for
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 14:41.8
SS15: 1651HRS HAGFORS SPRINT 2 (1.87KM)
The last stage of the day was a final visit to the short, 1.9km sprint
next to the service area in Hagfors. Over such a short distance just
3.2sec separated the top 10 drivers, and there were no changes to the
overall leaderboard. But the stage will be one to remember for
19-year-old Norwegian, Mads Ostberg, who claimed his first-ever WRC stage
victory in his privately-entered Subaru Impreza WRC.
Fastest time: 1:59.3 Ostberg (Subaru)
Subaru World Rally Team managing director, Richard Taylor: "It's been a good day for Chris, and we're pleased to see him up into sixth place now and challenging for fifth. Despite relatively limited snow driving experience, Chris is on target to achieve the result we hoped for here. Clearly it's been a very disappointing day for Petter, especially considering his overall speed and the fact that he was in a realistic podium position. But after the time he lost, we felt it would be better to end his rally early and preserve the car for Norway next week. Tomorrow we're looking forward to Chris pushing on and maintaining his target position."
Chris Atkinson: "It's been a productive day for us and our strategy has paid off. We've run at a pace that we're comfortable with, rather than try to be too ambitious and push too hard. We're just 8.6sec behind Daniel [Carlsson] going into the final leg, but it will be tough to beat him because this is his home event and remember he finished third here last year. We've been evenly matched with him all day. I think our choice of BFGoodrich tyres gave us a slight advantage this afternoon, but if we both choose the same tyres tomorrow it'll be very hard to make up that time. Still, we're on course to achieve our objective of a top-six finish and if I end tomorrow in fifth or sixth place, I'll be happy."
Petter Solberg: "I'm very disappointed about what has happened, and I'm really sorry to the supporters who were out on the stages for us. It was good to be fighting back near the top and I'd have liked to have carried that fight on tomorrow, but unfortunately losing 14 minutes meant there was no chance. So, we have to look forward, and that means preparing for Norway. It's my home rally and I'm going to try my best to get a much better result."
Tomorrow's third and final leg of the Swedish Rally is made up of five stages. A morning loop of two stages located close the service in Hagfors is repeated in the afternoon, after a 30-minute service. Crews then head back to the host town of Karlstad and a repeat of the Super Special stage, run previously on Thursday. Sunday's total competitive distance is 86.32km and the winning car will cross the podium in Karlstad at 1410hrs.