Fifth and sixth for SWRT after last day reshuffle
Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson secured fifth and sixth positions respectively for the Subaru World Rally Team after a trying finale to a tumultuous 52nd Rallye de France Tour de Corse. Lying eighth with two stages remaining, local talent Tirabassi was denied a World Championship point when he was forced to retire on the day's second stage.
Pirelli's PZero control tyres continued to play a role in deciding the outcome of round 13 of the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship season as a succession of punctures amongst the frontrunners on the incredibly abrasive and uneven roads saw the leaderboard change almost stage-on-stage.
Solberg and Phil Mills climbed to fourth overall after the first stage of the morning when Ford's Hirvonen suffered a puncture on the abrasive asphalt. However the same fate befell the Norwegian on the following stage, the second and last of the morning, when he too lost one minute with a front right puncture, sliding into fifth once again. On the afternoon's repeat pass of the same stage, Solberg again suffered a puncture, indicating just how cracked and unforgiving the island's roads are.
"We had a puncture on the final stage of the morning ten kilometres from the end of the stage, and then again in the final stage, so it's disappointing but that's what can happen" said Petter Solberg. "I think the first was a slow puncture as both times I didn't hit anything. After that I drove smart, just taking it easy to get to the finish. I knew we didn't have time to stop and change the wheel, and that it would be quicker to just drive to the finish of both stages.
"We've tried so many things with the car on this rally with different setups, and we have improved areas. That's the problem of not having done any testing though -- we make these changes on a rally. Some changes made the car better, some worse, but that's how it goes. I'm happy with my performance on this rally though. We had a couple of punctures, but nobody could say I didn't try! Now we look to Japan and going back to gravel on all new routes. I've never seen the stages before but I look forward to them."
After suffering a puncture yesterday that dropped them from the battle for fourth, Atkinson and Stephane Prevot avoided any further drama today with a measured drive to consolidate sixth position overall. The duo retain fourth position overall in the drivers' world championship with two rounds remaining.
"We had a good start and we were fighting with Jari-Matti and Petter but then we had a puncture which lost us time" said Chris Atkinson. "Once we had the puncture and I was down I just took it quite safe and easy. In the end I could have pushed for the last day and a half and I might have beaten Petter after his two punctures, but you can never know that and we might have got a puncture anyway so that's life.
"It's been a good weekend though as we were on Petter's pace before the puncture yesterday. I've driven a good rally and it's good to get some points. I think Petter and I are pretty close on tarmac at the moment. He's got an extra point or two out of these last two rallies but we've had a little bit of bad luck. I think we're both pushing quite hard and that's good for my driving still."
Unfortunately for Tirabassi and Corsican co-driver Fabrice Gordon, their home rally ended prematurely when a technical problem forced their retirement on the day's second stage, denying them eighth position and a World Championship point on only their second rally with the team. Nevertheless, the duo have shown well on both events of this Mediterranean asphalt back-to-back and are pleased with their stint with the team.
"The car was much better this morning but for me it's been hard to get a proper feeling this weekend" said Brice Tirabassi. "We made some changes last night and it was possible to speed up on the stages this morning. I was much happier.
"Then on the second stage after 9km we got a warning alarm in the car and after a few seconds the engine just stopped. It was not possible to restart the car. For sure it's very disappointing, but for me it's been a very good experience in Spain and Corsica and I am very happy. I enjoyed it a lot.
"Yes it's been difficult, but it's a rally so this can happen. I have a big smile and I am very happy with the team ad the car. It's been very good experience and to drive a Subaru on these two rounds, especially on my home event, has been very good for me."
In two weeks, from 30 October to 2 November, crews travel to the land of the rising sun for Rally Japan, the home event for Subaru. For the first time, the World Rally Championship moves from Obihiro to Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido. Sapporo is the fifth largest city in Japan. The rally HQ is based within the Sapporo Dome, and each of the whopping 29 special stages that make up 344.72 kilometres of competition will be new for WRC crews. There are eleven spectator stages in the shape of the Sapporo, Imeru and Nidom tests.