A very positive opening leg for the Subaru World Rally Team ended with both cars in podium positions. The team's shrewd choice of tyres enabled Chris Atkinson to forge into the lead of the rally early on, and Petter was soon up to a close second...
A very positive opening leg for the Subaru World Rally Team ended with both cars in podium positions. The team's shrewd choice of tyres enabled Chris Atkinson to forge into the lead of the rally early on, and Petter was soon up to a close second overall. Conditions in the afternoon were tougher -- Petter maintained his second place but Chris slipped to third. However, both cars are on course to achieve strong points finishes, which was the team's pre-rally objective for this hot, arduous gravel event.
SS1: 1900HRS SSS HIPPODROME 1 (3.20KM)
The rally started on Thursday night in front of an enthusiastic crowd in
the Olympic horse racing arena just south of Athens. According to Petter
Solberg's co-driver Phil Mills the specially constructed 3.2km stage
contained three of the biggest jumps he'd ever seen on a Superspecial.
Crews tackled the section head to head, with Petter drawn against his
brother Henning, and Chris Atkinson against the Finn Jari-Matti Latvala.
Both Subaru drivers won their heats, with Petter Solberg ending the day
as the lead Subaru driver in fourth place overall.
Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 2m 50.8s
SS2: 0913HRS SCHIMATARI (11.57KM)
By the time the crews headed out to the first gravel stage early on
Friday morning, the temperature was already beginning to soar. This
new-for-2007 test offered a tough challenge to the drivers, because it
contained plenty of crests, jumps and some big drops off the side of the
road. Both Subaru World Rally Team drivers made solid starts to the day.
Petter set the third-fastest time of 10m 17.6s and in the process moved
up to third in the overall standings. Chris was sixth fastest through the
stage with a time of 10m 26.9s, and also progressed one place up the
leaderboard to sixth. He reported that he had briefly stalled on one slow
corner and lost approximately five seconds.
Fastest time: M. Gronholm (Ford) 10m 17.6s
SS3: THIVA 1 (23.76KM)
The third stage packed 63 junctions into just under 24kms, and featured a
varied mix of terrain. Chris powered to the fastest time by 7.9sec,
claiming another stage win to add to the ones he picked up in Monte
Carlo, Sweden and Mexico earlier this year. His scorching time meant he
vaulted from sixth overall into the lead of the rally. Petter set the
second fastest time, although felt he still had some work to do to get
the car to work as he wanted. Ironically, Petter and co-driver Phil Mills
were chasing their fourth win on the Thiva stage in as many years, but
found themselves beaten by their young team-mate!
Fastest time: C. Atkinson (Subaru) 16m 39.0s
SS4: 1117HRS AGIA SOTIRA 1 (15.20KM)
After a short halt for refuelling, the crews tackled the third of the
morning's tests. Agia Sotira was a classic Greek stage, on a bedrock
surface and some big rocks lurking at the sides of the road to catch out
untidy drivers. The surface was rough and loose, but Chris won his second
stage in a row to extend his overall lead to 4.7sec. He had a quick
half-spin near the start of the stage and lost a couple of seconds, but
was otherwise satisfied. Petter recorded the third-fastest stage time of
9m 42.8s and jumped to second in the overall standings to make it a
Subaru World Rally Team one-two.
Fastest time: C. Atkinson (Subaru) 9m 39.4s
SS5: 1240HRS OLYMPIC PROPERTIES (MARKOPOULO) 1 (5.16KM)
The final stage before service took place on the perimeter roads around
the rally's base at the equestrian centre at Markopoulo. The Subaru
World Rally Team cemented its place at the top of the overall positions
by setting the first and second fastest times on the short test. This
time, however, it was Petter's turn to be quickest, although Chris was
only 0.8sec slower with a time of 3m 34.5s and so maintained his position
in the lead of the rally.
Fastest time: P. Solberg (Subaru) 3m 33.7s
SS6: 1455HRS SCHIMATARI 2 (11.57KM)
After a 30-minute service at the Olympic Equestrian Centre, crews set off
to repeat three of the morning's four stages. The loose layer of gravel
which had covered the rock hard road surface of Schimatari earlier had
been swept off for the repeat and conditions were the same for all the
cars. Gronholm was fastest through the stage -- as he had been when it
was run as SS2 -- but in the cleaner conditions his time was seven
seconds quicker. Petter Solberg was the fastest Subaru driver, bringing
his Impreza through in the fifth-fastest time, while Atkinson was
eight-fastest and held on to the overall lead of the rally.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 10m 10.1s
SS7: 1543HRS THIVA 2 (23.76KM)
Although not particularly rough in comparison to the other Greek stages,
the varied character of the 23km section from Thiva made it tricky for
drivers to get into a comfortable driving rhythm. Citroen's Dani Sordo
was the stage winner, with Gronholm and Loeb close behind in second and
third respectively. The result moved Gronholm into the lead of the rally
and dropped Atkinson to third. Petter Solberg set the fourth fastest time
to hold second overall, but both he and Atkinson reported a lack of
precision in the handling of their cars compared to the morning run.
Fastest time: Sordo (Citroen) 16m 13.2s
SS8: 1659HRS AGIA SOTIRA 2 (15.20KM)
Leg one finished with a second run through the punishing 15.2km Agia
Sotora test. Despite the rough and rocky terrain, times through the stage
were extremely close and less than five seconds separated the seven
fastest drivers. The stage win went to Sebastien Loeb, with Hirvonen
second and Sordo third. Subaru's Atkinson and Solberg were sixth and
seventh fastest to end the leg in second and third place respectively.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 9m 25.6s
Subaru World Rally Team managing director Richard Taylor: "We're delighted to have two cars in podium positions at the end of leg one. We made a strong tyre choice for this morning's loop of stages and it was fantastic for Chris to be leading when the cars came back into service at mid-day. The team performance today is proof that we're moving in the right direction with the development of the car. We haven't made huge gains in any one section of the car, but we have made small progress in a few areas and it's great to see those changes having a positive result."
CAR NUMBER SEVEN
Petter Solberg: "Not bad at all and it's great to be back in the fight! The small improvements that the guys have done before the rally seem to working and even though we're still lacking some speed I'm second overall and I'm happy because I can feel that we are on the right track. Like Chris we had a good morning, and then a more difficult afternoon when I struggled a bit with the handling, but still the times overall have been positive and I know there's more speed to come. Tomorrow I really hope that we can get the whole package working well again, I expect that we'll see a very exciting fight on the stages."
CAR NUMBER EIGHT
Chris Atkinson: "We kept trying today, that's for sure! We didn't have the best car balance this afternoon compared to the morning - even though we didn't change the set-up at the midday service - but we kept pushing as hard as we could and we've come back to service still third overall. Of course it's good to be in such a strong position tonight, but the top ten is so close it's crazy! Most of the repeated stages weren't as cut up as I expected they'd be, but the last one was extremely rough. I wanted to keep the third place so went absolutely flat out, the car was bouncing off everything on the way through -- so it was a relief that everything held together!"
Another eight stages await the drivers tomorrow. The leg begins with a gargantuan 48.88km test, Agii Theodori. The rest of the stages are short by comparison, but the long test is repeated again in the afternoon, when conditions are likely to be very rough. The day ends with another blast around the Olympic horse racing superspecial in Markopoulo. The total competitive distance will be 146.08km.