An impressive day for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team, which claimed wins on five of the Leg's six stages. Petter Solberg set consistently quick times, was fastest on four of the stages and looked to be heading for second overall. However on the...
An impressive day for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team, which claimed wins on five of the Leg's six stages. Petter Solberg set consistently quick times, was fastest on four of the stages and looked to be heading for second overall. However on the penultimate test the Norwegian lost time as he tried to overtake a slower competitor and had to settle for third place and six WRC Drivers' points. His teammate Tommi Makinen was fifth, securing four WRC Drivers' points. The result netted Subaru 10 more points in the 2003 Manufacturers' Championship.
SS17 0928hrs Dikastro 1 (18.40km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 16:08.7
Feeling confident after a good night's sleep, rally leader Markko Martin charged through the new Dikastro stage on a mission to claim the first WRC win of his career. Finishing second fastest, he extended his lead over second placed Carlos Sainz to more than a minute. But fastest man on the stage was Subaru's Petter Solberg. With the aim of catching Sainz's position, Solberg annihilated the field and stopped the clock 9.9 seconds ahead of anyone else. Over just 18kms, the Norwegian closed the gap on Sainz from 21.2 to 4.7 seconds. A good run by Peugeot's Richard Burns saw the Brit finish fourth fastest, despite having to tackle the stage without second gear. The ex World Champion's Peugeot lost the gear on SS13, and although teams are able to swap the box with the permitted spare as many times as necessary, regulations state that no internal repair work can be carried out on either. With the original box already damaged, Burns had no option but soldier on with the best available.
SS18 1006hrs New Tarzan 1 (20.65km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 15:27.8
As the tension mounted, all eyes were on the blue Subaru of Petter Solberg. Relishing the narrow, forest-based New Tarzan stage, the Norwegian maintained the pressure on second placed Carlos Sainz and set a second consecutive stage win. His charge slashed the overall gap between the duo to less than half a second and set up a thrilling battle for the remaining stages. Martin was sixth fastest and maintained the overall lead. Richard Burns proved that running without second gear wasn't a complete disaster and charged through to record the third fastest time and move up to 0.4 seconds off Tommi Makinen's overall fifth.
SS19 1104hrs Agios Stefanos 1 (13.47km)
Fastest time: Makinen (Subaru) 10:02.6
Regarded by some as the most technically difficult test of the whole event, the new Agios Stefanos route proved no problem for four-times World Champion Tommi Makinen. Finding excellent grip on his Pirelli tyres on the loose sandy surface, and responding to Burns' previous sprint, the Finn finished quickest to collect the third consecutive stage win for the 555 Subaru Team. There was no change to the overall top eight, and after the finish crews made their way back to Lamia for the penultimate service.
SS20 1332hrs Dikastro 2 (18.40km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 15:58.3
In what was becoming a nail-biting finale to the 50th Acropolis Rally, Petter Solberg started the second pass through Dikastro with his sights firmly set on Carlos Sainz's second place. Setting another impressive time, 5.8 seconds faster than the rest of the field, the Norwegian clinched the fourth consecutive stage win for the Subaru team and overtook the Spaniard. At the finish the Subaru star lay 44.4 seconds behind Markko Martin and the top spot with 34.12 competitive kilometres left to run. Gilles Panizzi was second fastest, his best result of the event, while Sainz was third. Tommi Makinen was fourth fastest, and maintained overall fifth.
SS21 1410hrs New Tarzan 2 (20.65km)
Fastest time: Sainz (Citroen) 15:10.3
With plenty of battles still going on within the top ten, a repeat of the longest stage of the Leg provided plenty of opportunity for crews to make up time. But for Colin McRae, disaster struck when his Citroen picked up an electrical throttle problem. Contesting the stage with only half throttle and at a very slow speed, the Scot lost over two and a half minutes and dropped from fourth to eighth in the overall standings, elevating Makinen to fourth. But McRae's problem also had serious consequences for Solberg who was driving behind him though the stage. Having already suffered a small spin early in the test, Petter was flat-out and quickly caught-up with the stricken Citroen. But struggling in the heavy dust-trail he found it impossible to pass. Despite trying to overtake on the left, then the right, Solberg could find no way to get by the Xsara, and only after Petter's car had nudged McRae's was he able to get past. The episode cost Petter's overall time dearly and as a direct result he dropped to third while Sainz moved back up to second.
SS22 1508hrs Agios Stefanos 2 (13.47km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 9:46.7
With McRae back on the pace, Solberg stormed through the final test to take another stage win and notch up the fifth of the Leg for Subaru. But, it wasn't enough to seize back second and with Carlos Sainz finishing the test third quickest, the Norwegian had to settle for third overall, albeit just 6.7 seconds down. A clean run from Markko Martin saw the young Estonian cruise through to finish fourth fastest and secure his maiden WRC victory. The win brought the promising Ford driver his second ever visit to the WRC podium (the first being in Great Britain 2002, when he finished second). A late surge from Burns won him overall fourth, and Makinen finished fifth.
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "It's been a great fight and it's good to see to both drivers involved in head to head battles right to wire. It's a shame for Petter that after fighting his way back he seems to have lost second place through no fault of his own. Petter has driven brilliantly and, but for the drive shaft problem on the second day, could have been fighting with Markko for another win. Tommi has had a good battle today. It was tough for him yesterday, but he was determined to put the record straight. He set a fastest time today and has mixed it with the best. We look forward to Cyprus with every reason to expect a great event."
Petter Solberg: "I'm a little bit upset. I tried my best and did end up taking some risks today, but I've had to settle for third place. It was tough on that stage (SS21) as I could just not pass Colin. I went to the left, to the right, and at one point I actually hit his car, but that's just too bad. I suppose that I'm happy with third, but disappointed at the same time. Still, I have a good feeling in the car and I'm looking forward to Cyprus."
Tommi Makinen: "I think I made an incorrect tyre choice on that last group of stages, and on balance they were too soft. The rally for me hasn't been as good as it could have been, and it's certainly not been my best performance. But we'll focus now on Cyprus."
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "Once again both Tommi and Petter selected the Pirelli Pzero XR3 racing gravel tyre, they also chose to cut the tyres in order to combat the rough gravel surfaces found in Greece. The performance of the Pirelli tyres in Greece on the 50th Rally Acropolis has been excellent. The whole Pirelli Team look forward to Rally Cyprus and another good result there. This week the Pirelli team are travelling to Spain for some tarmac testing."
Round seven of the FIA 2003 World Rally Championship starts in just two weeks time, when crews move to the island of Cyprus. Based around the holiday resort of Limassol, the event bears a close resemblance to the Acropolis, presenting a series of rocky, dry stages. 2003 sees the event revert back to a mid-June date, after it was moved to April last year. Following a ceremonial start on Thursday 19 June, crews will contest a total of 341.05 competitive kilometres over three days. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp on Sunday 22 June at 1520hrs.