Ahead of tomorrow's third and final Leg of the Acropolis rally of Greece, Subaru driver Petter Solberg holds the overall rally lead by a margin of 28.5 seconds. Over today's seven stages, Solberg drove his Impreza WRC2004 to three outright stage...
Ahead of tomorrow's third and final Leg of the Acropolis rally of Greece, Subaru driver Petter Solberg holds the overall rally lead by a margin of 28.5 seconds. Over today's seven stages, Solberg drove his Impreza WRC2004 to three outright stage wins and at one point extended his lead to 1 minute 23 seconds. Despite losing some of this advantage with a brake problem and a 30 second time penalty for a minor technical infringement, Solberg remains ideally positioned ahead of the remaining 98 stage kilometres. 23-year-old Mikko Hirvonen's encouraging performance on the rally came to an unfortunate end on the penultimate stage, when his car collided with a large rock in the road.
SS10: 0846 Amfissa 1 (14.59km)
As a result of the new WRC re-start system, that is being trialled at this event for the first time, all the Leg one retirements were allowed to re-start this morning if they desired. However, although that meant that WRC drivers Markko Martin, Daniel Sola, Armin Schwarz and Toni Gardemeister could continue, they were no longer eligible to score points in either the WRC Drivers' or Manufacturers' Championship. Eager to make up time following a poor tyre choice and, in his own words, a 'miserable' Leg one, Sebastien Loeb was fastest to take his first win of the event. Overall leader Petter Solberg was second fastest, with Francois Duval third. Taking crews along a 10km wide, fast quarry access road normally used by trucks, the stage finished with a 4.5km narrow, twisty section. Marcus Gronholm slid wide on a corner 1km from the finish, hit the left rear wheel of his 307 on a rock and sustained damage to his Peugeot's suspension. He was able to continue, but dropped nine seconds to the leaders. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS11.
SS11: 0935 Drosohori 1 (28.68km)
Setting the fastest time by 7.3 seconds and taking his sixth win of the event, Petter Solberg enjoyed a happier run through the Drosohori stage than he did in 2002. That year, he and co-driver Phil Mills displayed an exemplary piece of teamwork as they carried out high speed running repair work to their Impreza's steering wheel. The stage was to be the last of Marcus Gronholm's points-scoring event. After stopping to make roadside repairs to his damaged Peugeot, the Finn arrived at the time control six minutes late and entered the 28km test with a one-minute time penalty. He then retired 2km in due to mechanical damage sustained in the previous stage. Duval and Loeb put in strong times to move up the overall leaderboard to second and third respectively, while Mikko Hirvonen was eighth fastest and moved up to seventh place overall. Presenting a slightly different road surface to the rest of the event, the sandy stage took crews up a mountain before concluding with a flat out descent on the other side. After the finish, crews moved to a special 10-minute tyre change zone in Lilea. Included primarily to allow fresh tyres to be fitted for the next group of stages, crews were also allowed the assistance of two team members to work on their cars.
SS12: 1122 Rengini 2 (11.84km)
After the tyre zone service (the first of the 2004 Championship), crews returned to Rengini to contest a second pass through the short and twisty 11km stage. Picking up his pace, Rovanpera was quickest to take his second stage win, while Loeb was second fastest and Duval third. At the finish, the trio lay in second, fourth and third positions respectively, with just 6.7 seconds between them. Starting the test with an advantage of more than a minute over the rest of the field, Reigning World Champion Petter Solberg was fourth fastest, while team-mate Mikko Hirvonen finished a respectable sixth. After suffering a handbrake failure on his Mitsubishi Lancer, Gilles Panizzi struggled to negotiate the test's numerous tricky hairpins and dropped 20 seconds to the leaders.
SS13: 1150 Elatia - Zeli 2 (32.55km)
While there was no repeat of the extreme drama witnessed on yesterday's pass through the tricky stage from Elatia (SS3), there were nervous moments for event leader Solberg when a rock from the stage damaged a brake line on his Subaru 8km from the start. Forced to contest the remaining 24km using his Impreza's handbrake only, a remarkable effort from the Norwegian meant he dropped only 24.5 seconds. Continuing to jostle for overall second position, Loeb was quickest, despite stalling his engine on a hairpin, with Rovanpera second and Duval third. Kicking up clouds of dust, crews negotiated a fast opening gravel section, followed by a series of tricky, almost hidden crests. Charging through the first 11km, which Solberg's co-driver Phil Mills described as 'a motorway made of gravel', drivers recorded speeds of up to 200kph. Despite Panizzi's Mitsubishi suffering a loss of engine power 4km from the finish, which cost him over a minute, there were no leading retirements and after the finish, crews returned to Lamia for a scheduled service.
SS14: 1524 Amfissa 2 (14.59km)
Harri Rovanpera scored another win on the repeated Amfissa test to defend his position in overall second and potentially clinch his first podium result since Cyprus 2003. But the chasing duo of Loeb and Duval remained in hot pursuit and were just 1.4 seconds and 2.1 seconds slower to take second and third fastest respectively. Event leader Solberg was fourth fastest, while Carlos Sainz, 41 minutes behind the leaders after an incident on Leg one, was essentially testing in his Citroen Xsara and was fifth. Despite running wide on the first corner and hitting his Impreza's right rear wheel, Mikko Hirvonen pushed hard and finished seventh fastest, 15.7 seconds off the winning pace. There was no change to the overall top ten and after the finish, crews moved to the start of SS15.
SS15: 1613 Drosohori 2 (28.68km)
As the tension mounted on the penultimate stage of the day, the second pass through the repeated Drosohori stage was bittersweet for the Subaru team. Petter Solberg took the win to increase his overall lead to 55.2 seconds, but there were problems for Mikko. Coming out of a third gear corner at around 80kph, the 23-year-old's Impreza collided with a large boulder that had been flicked from the roadside and onto his driving line. The impact launched Mikko's car into a series of rolls down the stage and against a rock-face before it came to rest on its nose, leaning upside down against the rock. Thankfully Mikko and Jarmo were uninjured in the crash, but the car had sustained heavy damage. Undaunted by their predicament, the pair managed to get the car onto its wheels, repair a cooling system leak and drive through to the end of the stage. After the finish, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of the Leg's final stage, SS16.
SS16: 1711 Lilea - Parnassos 3 (2.25km)
The third and final run through the head-to-head Super Special at Lilea brought more action from the WRC drivers. Solberg was fastest to clinch another stage win, while Martin was second (he was later given a ten-second penalty for a jump-start), and Carlsson third. Although he collected a 50 second time penalty for arriving late to the start of SS16, Mikko Hirvonen managed to complete the Super Special and return to the service area at Lamia. But despite the determined efforts of Mikko and his co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen, the car's body shell was too badly damaged for it continue and the pair retired.
Today I've been keeping one eye on the split times and trying to keep myself out of trouble. On the whole it's been a very good day but there's still a long way to go before we can think about a party. I was a bit nervous about the brake problem earlier, but I'm lucky there was a service straight after and apart from that things have been perfect. Tomorrow is bound to be a very tough day - I have butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it. I do like a good battle and still prefer to push flat-out all the time, rather than having to be clever about my speed, but it's a strategy I must learn.
Obviously I'm very disappointed to have finished like this, especially as I felt I was making good progress with my driving, but when I came around the corner there was just nothing I could do to miss the rock. Still, there have been plenty of good things to come out of this rally, and looking ahead to Turkey for sure I'll try to keep the speed, and use the performance of the car to achieve a better result there.
David Lapworth, Team Principal
It's been another very satisfying day for Petter who has managed to extend his lead. Even when faced with the incident on SS13, he kept a cool head and has managed his pace perfectly. I've been encouraged by Mikko's performance on this rally, he set some excellent stage times, and today's accident seems a very unfortunate finish. But this is all part of the rally learning experience and I'm looking forward to continued improvement in Turkey.
In response to the news that rally leader Petter Solberg was later given a 30-second time penalty because his Subaru Impreza WRC had no rear mud-flaps when leaving service this afternoon, David Lapworth commented: "On behalf of our team I would like to apologise to World Champion Petter Solberg that a common, minor technical infringement has resulted in a halving of his rally lead. Our oversight in not re-fitting the mud-flaps provided no competitive advantage whatsoever and occurred when replacing the damaged rear bumper of his car. We hope that the penalty will have no bearing on the result of this rally."
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
The key to Petter's success today was finding a suitable compromise in the tyre cut, between cutting it enough to disperse any unexpected rain and not losing the strength or durability of the tyre. He managed to strike this balance perfectly, shown by his position at the front of the field.
How F1 and Superbikes help Petter and Mikko handle the heat
Motorsport clothing experts Alpinestars are helping Subaru World Rally Team drivers keep their cool in Greece with a new race-suit they've designed specially for hot weather rallies. The new blue and yellow overalls may look the same as the previous model last worn in Cyprus, but as Giampiero Sanders of Alpinestars' product development department explained, the new suit brings a host of benefits to drivers:
"We've spent about a year developing this particular suit for rally drivers. Unlike racers in F1 or Superbikes, a rally driver is fully enclosed in his car and there's little airflow around the body. So for us, the main challenge of events like the Acropolis is to develop a suit that won't be too warm, that has good breathability, is lightweight and of course still meets the rigorous FIA safety standard."
"The new suit is a two layer construction, with an inner lining of waffle nomex and an exterior made from another type of Nomex called continuous filament. The waffle nomex is stitched to create tiny air pockets that give space for the skin to breathe. The fabric is also designed to absorb sweat and move it away from the body towards the outer shell. When both layers are combined, the cloth is 50grams per square metre lighter than the previous version."
"The WRC suit features stretch panels at arm and knee joints, together with another over the lower back. These ensure a perfect snug fit whether walking or driving. The suit is also 'engineered' to fit, which means every section is shaped to mimic a body's natural curves at the knee and elbow and so on."
"As part of the FIA homologation process, each layer of the suit is placed in contact with a flame for 10 seconds and must remain hole-free to pass. To check heat transmission, the temperature of the inner lining is taken after the outer shell has been held in a flame for 11 seconds - any temperature over 24=BAc is a failure. The FIA also carries out a traction test to check the strength of seams, and repeats all tests after five laundry cycles to monitor the effects of washing."