Argentina: Subaru leg one summary

A day of mixed fortunes for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team in Argentina. While both Tommi and Petter demonstrated the competitiveness and potential of their cars, with a stage win and a string of top three times, both suffered incidents that ...

A day of mixed fortunes for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team in Argentina. While both Tommi and Petter demonstrated the competitiveness and potential of their cars, with a stage win and a string of top three times, both suffered incidents that dropped them out of real contention for the lead. Ahead of tomorrow's Leg, Petter lies in eighth position and Tommi nineteenth.

Stage Reports

SS1 1935hrs (Thurs) Super Special Complejo Pro-Racing Lane A (3.02km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 2:09.7

SS2 1935hrs (Thurs) Super Special Complejo Pro-Racing Lane B (3.02km)
Fastest time: Burns (Peugoet) 2:09.4

Thousands of spectators created an electrifying atmosphere as the drivers took on the Complejo Pro-Racing Super Special yesterday evening. Regarded by many drivers as one of the best super specials in the championship, Norwegian star Petter Solberg revelled in its tricky and twisty turns, to seize second place in his Subaru Impreza WRC2003, while team-mate Tommi Makinen, ended in sixth. World Champion Marcus Gronholm finished the tests as the early leader in his Peugeot 206, barely two seconds ahead of Solberg. Away from the super special, Toni Gardemeister had a bad start after collecting a one-minute time penalty for failing to report a faulty tracking system on his recce car. There was more anguish for Skoda, when local hero Gabriel Pozzo was unable to start, after his car sustained engine damage during shakedown.

SS3 0850hrs El Reposo - Los Sauces 1 (10.03km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 5:44.9

Continuing yesterday's form, Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm started with a flourish and took the stage win. Negotiating the test's fast and flowing gravel corners, the current World Champion finished 3.1 seconds ahead of Ford's Markko Martin, who was second. Subaru's Solberg was third, while team-mate Makinen was eighth. There were no retirements, but Ford's Francois Duval lost time when he collected a puncture on the first corner and team-mate Hirvonen's Focus received a flattened exhaust and bent propshaft after hitting a rock. After the stage, crews headed directly to SS4.

SS4 0917hrs Cañada de Rio Pinto - Villa Albertina 1 (10.91km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugoet) 7:43.4

The second of four new stages included in Leg one saw Gronholm scoop his second win of the day, while team-mate Richard Burns was second. Running on Pirelli tyres, the winning choice on this event for the last four years, the stage's soft corners and four river crossings proved no problem for Makinen and Solberg, and the pair maintained excellent traction to finish third and fourth fastest.

SS5 0939hrs Villa Albertina - Ischilin 1 (15.17km)
Fastest time: Makinen (Subaru) 8:54.5

Contesting the fastest stage of the event, Argentine expert and previous three times event winner Tommi Makinen took the stage win, finishing 0.2 seconds ahead of Gronholm. Makinen's charge moved him up to second overall, 14.7 seconds off the lead. It was to be a bittersweet test for the 555 Subaru Team however, and Tommi's team-mate Petter, who had been in second since the start, lost two minutes when his Impreza left the road on the entry to a fourth-gear left-hand corner, 1km from the start. The car came to rest on its side, although only the bodywork was damaged. Unable to regain the road, Petter was stranded until enough spectators arrived to put the car back onto its wheels. Once upright, Petter and Phil were able to complete the stage at a competitive pace. Despite the stage's seven river crossings, conditions remained largely dry and dust clouds, kicked up by the leading cars, caused some visibility problems for the late runners.

SS6 1011hrs Museo Fader - Ongamira 1 (18.49km)
Fastest time: Sainz (Citroen) 10:12.7

Carlos Sainz was quickest and took his first win of the rally. Markko Martin was second, and Gronholm third. Run as the last stage before the day's second service, it was the last of the event for Hyundai's Freddy Loix. The Belgian experienced engine problems mid-stage when the boost pressure sensor on the turbo charger failed. He lost 27 minutes and later retired. After the finish, crews returned to service in Le Cumbre.

SS7 1202hrs La Falda - Villa Giardino 1 (9.37km)
Fastest time: Sainz (Citroen) 6:25.1

After the four sprints northeast of Le Cumbre, SS7 saw crews move south to La Falda for the shortest test of the day, Villa Giardino. Kicking up dust that blended with the smoke of the spectators barbecues, crews charged through a mixture of long crests, water splashes and jumps. Sainz was quickest, Loeb second and Martin third. It wasn't all smiles for the Ford team. After earlier problems with his car's turbo, Finnish newcomer Mikko Hirvonen had to make emergency repairs to his engine and cruised through the stage with only 20 percent of normal power.

SS8 1230hrs La Cumbre - Agua de Oro 1 (21.70km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 18:47.6

While there was no sign of the fog that shrouded the stage last year causing treacherous driving conditions, SS8 brought new problems for many of the leading competitors, including Tommi Makinen. Encountering a gear selection problem, the four-time World Champion was forced to contest the stage with his Impreza locked in second gear. He dropped over seven minutes and slipped from the top ten. After consulting his engineers at the finish, the Finn completed the following road section and stage in second gear, before returning to service where repair work could be carried out. Gear box problems also afflicted Ford's Markko Martin and, unable to select fourth and fifth, the Estonian dropped six seconds. Skoda's Didier Auriol hit a rock in his Octavia and hurt his wrist, forcing his co-driver Denis Giraudet to operate the gearshift.

SS9 1320hrs Ascochinga - La Cumbra 1 (28.83km)
Fastest time: Sainz (Citroen) 19:07.4

Colin McRae's rally came to a dramatic end when his Citroen Xsara suffered engine failure, caught fire three times and eventually burned out. He had been in seventh position. An unlucky test also for Gronholm, the Finn slid wide on a second gear corner 4km in, hit a rock and damaged a rear wheel on his 206WRC. He completed the stage, but lost more than a minute and the overall lead. Carlos Sainz was fastest, and assumed the top position overall. Both Tommi Makinen and Markko Martin continued to be dogged by their gear problems, and lost a further 5 minutes 43.6 seconds and 33.1 seconds respectively. His speed limited by the only available gear, Tommi picked up a one minute penalty for arriving six minutes late to the start control of SS9.

SS10 1532hrs El Reposo - Los Sauces 2 (10.03km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 5:38.4

His transmission problems evidently behind him, Markko Martin took the stage win and third position overall. His charge dislodged Loeb and Burns to fourth and fifth respectively. A repeat of the day's first test, the 10.3km sprint was more rutted, but there were no significant problems for the leading crews and the top five times posted were quicker than those set in SS3. Following a busy service for many teams in Le Cumbre, where the hundreds of the Argentine fans had gathered, both Marcus Gronholm and Tommi Makinen were rejuvenated in their repaired cars and finished second and fifth fastest respectively.

SS11 1559hrs Cañada de Rio Pinto - Villa Albertina 2 (10.91km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 7:38.2

Revelling in the stages flowing corners and undeterred by his earlier dilemmas, Makinen was right back on the pace in SS11 and finished second fastest, 2.9 seconds behind Gronholm and 4.1 seconds faster than third-placed Martin. However, with more than a thirteen-minute deficit remaining between himself and the leaders at the finish, he still had a long way to go to claim a points finish. His team-mate Solberg posted the fourth fastest time. Despite completing the test just 10.5 seconds behind stage winner Gronholm, Rovanpera dropped two places in the overall standings, and fell to fourth

SS12 1621hrs Villa Albertina - Ischilin 2 (15.17km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 8:47.5

Proving the pace that's made him a previous three-times winner of this event, Tommi Makinen repeated his earlier charge through the fast Villa Albertina, and sliced 3 seconds from his previous time to finish second fastest. Marcus Gronholm was quickest, with Markko Martin finishing third. Solberg was sixth. Citroen's Sebastien Loeb suffered a spin, which cost him 21.4 seconds and overall third place. At the finish he lay in fifth.

SS13 1653hrs Museo Fader - Ongamira 2 (18.49km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 9:49.6

The final stage of the day, but there was still plenty of action for the thousands of fans who lined the stage. Running eighth on the road, Petter Solberg had an extremely lucky escape when he took evasive action to avoid a large rock in the middle of the road 3km from the start. The Norwegian spotted the boulder mid way through a sixth gear left hand corner at a speed of approximately 185kph. Swerving to avoid a collision, Petter's car leapt sideways into a ditch before spinning backwards into another ditch on the other side of the road. Remarkably the car was undamaged, and the pair were able to complete the test, dropping only one place. Sainz was third fastest to secure the overnight lead. At the finish he lay 22.4 seconds ahead of Markko Martin in overall second, while Richard Burns was a further 17.7 seconds behind in third.

Team Quotes

David Lapworth , 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal:
"I'm pleased with our performance today, but disappointed with the result. Both drivers have been extremely competitive, and have comfortably set good times in the conditions. We're taking some consolation from the fact that, as a team, we feel fully competitive with Tommi's stage win and eight finishes in the top three. That in itself makes it more even more disappointing to be where we are. But, as we have seen today, this is a very unpredictable event and we can still take points from Argentina."

Petter Solberg:
"It's not been such an easy day. We started well, getting good times without taking risks, but I must say I wasn't 100 percent happy with the handling of the car under braking, and on SS5 the chances of a win just disappeared. At times like this it can be tough, but we just have to keep on going, try and finish, and get some points."

Tommi Makinen:
"It's a great shame not to be able to make the most of the car's potential here. The feeling I'm getting on the stages is very good and our times have reflected this -- I think we had a very realistic chance of a top finich. Unfortunately, we can no longer aim for the win, but it's impossible to predict what tomorrow will bring, we will just have to wait and see."

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio , Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager:
"Today, we have been happy with the performance of the Pirelli tyres, both Petter and Tommi selected the PZero KM4 narrow gravel tyre for the first six stages and then the harder KM tyre for the remainder of the day. We hope for a similar performance tomorrow."

Technical Talk -- Radio Communication Systems

A typical round of the WRC may see 555 Subaru drivers Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg competing up to 200 kilometres away from the team's mobile HQ in service. The team uses radio technology to keep in touch, and 555 SWRT's electronics technician Tony Baker, told us more--

* As hills and buildings can obstruct radio signals, a specially equipped aircraft circles above each rally at 35,000 feet to 'bounce' radio signals from the team's mobile mast in service to the rally cars. It does this using a radio repeater. Using this system, messages can be transmitted between the team and crews within milliseconds.

* The team has to apply for short-term radio licenses in each country, so the radio frequencies change for each round of the championship. This means Tony has to re-programme the teams Kenwood radio equipment at every event

* Most radio contact occurs between team co-ordinator, Ken Rees, and the co-driver as they discuss stage conditions and times. The Subaru Impreza WRC2003 is fitted with two communication systems, a single button on the centre console which can establish immediate contact with the team when pushed, and an intercom box will activates radio and mobile telephone communication via the helmet headsets

* As the inside of a modern WRC car is so noisy, Subaru crews use special headsets which are fitted in their safety helmet to talk both to each other and the team. It's often thought that the team uses voice activating technology, but the possibility of a split second delay before the system activates could mean a missed pace note

* Although extremely effective, radio communication between the team and crews is not secure and can be scanned by other teams. For this reason, teams switch to mobile telephones, or use code, when conveying sensitive or confidential information

Tomorrow's Leg
Tomorrow's leg takes teams north of Le Cumbre for a loop of three stages, before moving south to the Carlos Paz region for further three. Crews will then repeat the first three to make up nine stages and 153.90km competitive kilometres. Competitors will leave Le Cumbre parc ferme at 0655hrs, and the first stage (SS14) starts at 0850hrs.


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team