Solberg takes fourth as ice continues to grip Rally GB
On the second day of frosty competition in Wales, the sole remaining Subaru World Rally Team entry of Petter Solberg and Phil Mills performed strongly on their way to claiming fourth position overall.
Colder than yesterday, the weather was otherwise fine and any threat of rain had evaporated. The icy Welsh landscape was picturesque beneath clear wintry skies, but it was deceptive.
Today's stages were no easier than yesterday's, and certainly no leisurely countryside drive as patchy icy lurked around every corner and made the grip level incredibly unpredictable. Nor were the roads as picture-perfect as the scenery across which they cut a path, being coated in a cocktail of thick, slippery mud and ice that ensured they were every bit as treacherous and unforgiving as Friday's stages.
"We have seen time and again that consistency and precision are absolutely crucial to success on this rally, and the same is proving true this year" said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. "Petter and Phil have not put a wheel wrong and, along with some good stage times, have climbed to fourth today as a result. Conversely, it is shame to see Mads Ostberg retire today on stage 14 as he was running strongly for Subaru in fifth position."
On the first stage of the morning, Petter and Phil started incredibly quickly, putting their experience on these roads and in these conditions to maximum effect. By the stage midpoint they were 20 seconds faster than rally leader Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford), but ice in the latter half saw their pace reduced with the worsening level of grip.
More strong performances followed, resulting in the third fastest time on the second running of the same stage in the afternoon and another third fastest time on SS14, the day's penultimate test.
With a string of commanding performances, the duo duly climbed to fourth position with a consistent drive across the day's seven stages, the last of which was held on a one kilometre loop within Cardiff's Millennium Stadium over which Petter and Phil were second fastest. Run after dark as were yesterday's last two stages, this spectator test however enjoyed the added benefit of floodlights.
"The roads are so icy here and that's where I'm losing time. Everywhere on the fast stuff I'm as fast as or faster than everybody else, but it's just on the ice that I'm losing" said Petter Solberg. "It's all about having consistent grip here, but the car is going forward and looking more positive. So many places I have been much faster than anybody but then we come to ice and it goes. I'm quite happy with my performance and the improvements in the car so we'll see for tomorrow. We will make some small changes to the dampers, but otherwise I'm quite happy with everything else with the car."
After their heavy accident yesterday evening, Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot were both back in the service park this morning before departing for their respective homes. Both drivers are well and have no significant injuries.
Following an examination by the FIA this morning, their No.6 Impreza was taken back to the team's base in Banbury, UK where it will be the subject of a full inspection to see what can be learned in the team's constant drive to further improve safety.
The final day of competition in the 2008 World Rally Championship consists of just four stages in south Wales, but with a relatively long distance of 96.10km, making it almost twice the length of the opening day of the rally. The first of each loop runs to the north east of Swansea, whilst the second runs to the south east towards the Welsh town of Bridgend. The temperature on Sunday is expected to be the coldest yet of the rally, so more ice and slippery stages can be expected.