In a perfectly measured drive, which capitalised on the wet-weather performance of the Pirelli/Subaru combination and his own talent behind the wheel, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg delivered an outstanding performance today. By setting a string...
In a perfectly measured drive, which capitalised on the wet-weather performance of the Pirelli/Subaru combination and his own talent behind the wheel, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg delivered an outstanding performance today. By setting a string of consistently good times, including three consecutive stage wins, and making some astute tyre choices, the Norwegian made up a 40 second deficit to move up eight places in the overall standings and hold the overall lead of the rally by 17.9 seconds. His team-mate Tommi Makinen also had a good day. The Finn moved up five places to hold seventh position overnight, well poised for a strong points finish tomorrow.
SS7 0833hrs Ampaza -- Petreto 38.64km
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 25:32.2
A change in the weather conditions and a change to the overall leaderboard on the first run through the marathon Ampaza stage. With overnight rain making tyre choice critical for the first loop of two stages, many of the leading WRC drivers chose to run on slick tyres, modified with additional cuts. Exceptions included Richard Burns and Mikko Hirvonen who ran on intermediate tyres. With drivers facing a mixture of damp and dry sections through the abrasive stage, those on the cut slicks had a notable advantage. 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg set an exceptional pace, and demonstrated his confidence in wet conditions by finishing second fastest, 4.6 seconds ahead of third placed Loeb, and almost ten seconds ahead of fourth fastest Sainz. Martin took the stage win and leapt up the leaderboard to second overall. Not such a great start to the day for the Peugeot duo of Gronholm and Burns. The pair finished eleventh and twelfth fastest respectively and tumbled down the overall standings, while Peugeot privateer Alexandre Bengue retired after ripping a rear wheel from his 206WRC. After crossing the finish line in Petreto, crews moved directly to the start of SS8.
SS8 0936hrs Pont De La Masina -- Col St Georges (15.42km)
Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 10:31.5
Torrential rain on the first pass through the twisty Pont De La Masina, caused a host of problems for many of the leading WRC crews and turned the overall leaderboard on its head. Still running on the tyres they had selected two hours earlier, competitors had to negotiate a combination of standing water and numerous hairpin bends making cautious driving imperative. Suffering a puncture, Burns dropped fifteen seconds, and Duval stalled twice, but there was worse for young guns Martin and Loeb. Sliding wide on a corner and clipping a cliff-face, Markko broke a front wheel on his Focus and lost over four minutes while he stopped to change it. He reached the finish, but the incident dropped him to 14th and out of contention for the lead. In a similar incident, Loeb spun his Citroen off the road and lost over ten minutes while he waited for spectators to help him get it back onto the rally route. In the 555 Subaru camp, Makinen finished sixth fastest, while Petter was seventh, despite suffering a spin, which cost him 15 seconds. After the finish, crews returned to Ajaccio for the second service of the day.
SS9 1129hrs Col De Carazzi -- Bastelica (40.94km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 27:23.5
Regarded by 555 Subaru co-driver Phil Mills as 'a classic mountainous stage', the Col de Carazzi certainly presented drivers with some classic unpredictable mountain weather. Sporadic rain prompted many of the WRC drivers to choose an intermediate tyre, with a large number making additional cuts in anticipation of varied wet conditions. With lots of standing water and heavy showers, this proved to be the right choice. Negotiating the longest stage of the event, which included a section through the village of Tavera, a narrow, winding climb up to the top of the Col and a descent to the town of Bastelica, Panizzi was back on the pace and quickest to collect the stage win. Loeb was second and Duval third. No such luck for Burns though. The Brit stalled on a hairpin towards the end of the stage, which cost him 50 seconds and sixth place overall, while fellow Brit McRae had to complete the stage with no windscreen wipers. After the finish, teams returned to Ajaccio for the third service of the day.
SS10 1407hrs Ampaza -- Petreto (38.64km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 25:20.7
With all the leading WRC crews, apart from Loeb and Bulgalski, opting to run cut slick tyres, competitors were well prepared for the damp conditions on the second run through the long Ampaza test. Dirt pulled onto the road during the first pass made conditions more slippery, but it was no problem for Subaru's Petter Solberg, who underlined his competence in the wet by storming through to take the stage win. Fastest by a considerable margin of 12.9 seconds, he also shaved 11.5 seconds off Martin's previous stage record and at the finish lay just 6.5 seconds off the overall lead. The Estonian was second fastest, with Sainz third. Another charge from Panizzi saw the Frenchman finish fifth fastest to move into fourth overall, while Gronholm fell to fifth after suffering a spin. At the finish crews made the 14.51km journey to the start of SS11.
SS11 1510hrs Pont De La Masina -- Col St Georges (15.42km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 10:22.3
Despite the rain, thousands of Corsican spectators crowded into the stage, causing organisers to delay its start by five minutes. Once underway, Solberg put in another top performance to take his second consecutive stage win and move up into second position overall. At the finish just 3.2 seconds separated the Norwegian from Ford's Francois Duval, who was third fastest to retain the overall lead. Although conditions through the repeated twisty stage remained damp and slippery, there were no leading retirements, but there was another disappointing performance from Gronholm. The Finn finished eleventh fastest and dropped another place in the overall standings, while Loeb was ninth fastest, admitting that motivation had become a problem following his earlier incident. Once the stage was complete, crews returned to Ajaccio for the Leg's penultimate service.
SS12 1703hrs Col De Carazzi -- Bastelica (40.94km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 27:15.6
Petter's gamble in the Leg's final test paid off. Running on hand cut slicks, while the rest of the WRC field went out on intermediates, the Norwegian charged through the final drying stage to finish 9.2 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. His performance was enough to snatch the overall lead from Duval, and end the day as overnight leader, 17.9 seconds clear of his rivals. Rounding off what had been a successful day for the Subaru team, Solberg's team-mate Makinen finished second fastest, to make it a Subaru 1, 2 and the Finn moved up two places on the leaderboard to end seventh overall. Citroen's Sainz was fourth fastest to retain overall third, 53.1 seconds ahead of McRae in fourth.
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "Our strategy on Friday was based on the expectation of bad weather today and things have gone absolutely according to plan. Our tyre choices have been very good all day, and that's certainly given Petter an edge. But that shouldn't take anything away from his own personal performance -- he should take credit for a brilliant drive in sometimes treacherous conditions. Its good to see Tommi finish the day with a time right behind Petter and a Subaru 1-2 stage win is particularly encouraging for the whole team and Pirelli."
Petter Solberg: "Yesterday, I didn't really believe that I could start at all, so to be where I am now is fantastic. The last stage of the day was really tough, but after a few kilometres, everything just seemed to go well. The stage was rough and bumpy, but everything came together and I have a very good feeling behind the steering wheel. I've got a lot of confidence in these conditions, and as a driver I know I'm good on wet tarmac. Pirelli is good in these conditions too, and it's especially good for them and Subaru to hold the lead here tonight. Looking to tomorrow, I'm going to be doing everything I can to win and hope the weather stays the same. As a team, it's important for us to win on tarmac and for me it's important for my Championship hopes."
Tommi Makinen: "To move from twelfth to seventh is very good progress. On that last stage we seem to have found a really good set up and tyre choice for the conditions. The road was damp, but not too wet and the whole package seemed to come together well. Tomorrow, I think the weather conditions might be dry, so we may have to make a few more changes, but if conditions are similar to today then we know we are in a good position."
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "Tyre choice today has been very difficult with the constantly changing weather conditions and dirty stages. Both Tommi and Petter have selected the Pirelli PZero RX tarmac tyre with added cuts in order to combat these conditions. Tommi made a change to a cut Pirelli PZero RE tarmac tyre for the last stage, clearly liking this choice with a second fastest time behind Petter. Both drivers have been very happy with their tyres, and tomorrow we hope for a little rain and a continuation of today's excellent performance."