The Subaru World Rally Team still has two cars firmly in the points with just one stage remaining in this year's Rallye Monte Carlo. Chris Atkinson was one of the stars of the rally and set two fastest stage times as he fought over fourth position...
The Subaru World Rally Team still has two cars firmly in the points with just one stage remaining in this year's Rallye Monte Carlo. Chris Atkinson was one of the stars of the rally and set two fastest stage times as he fought over fourth position with Mikko Hirvonen. Chris lost the position by a slender margin on the last stage of the day, but remains confident that he will have a chance of clawing it back on the Monaco superspecial tomorrow morning. Petter Solberg successfully moved one place up the order from seventh to sixth and was satisfied with the stage times he set during the leg.
SS9: 0731HRS LABATIE D'ANDAURE - LALOUVESC 1 (19.67KM)
It was a cold and bright morning as the first stage of leg three got
underway. Both Subaru World Rally Team drivers had their sights set on
maintaining their positions in the points. Chris set a time of 11m 07.9s
and lost some time to Mikko Hirvonen behind him, but wasn't particularly
worried: "We had a good run but we stalled on a slow corner and lost 10
seconds. It was my mistake and it took a while for us to get going again.
If it wasn't for that, we would have been up with Mikko." Petter posted
the fourth-fastest effort through the stage and edged closer to
sixth-placed Toni Gardemeister in the overall standings. Just 6.6s
separated Subaru's driver from a move up the order. "Things worked well
in that stage," explained Petter. "We made a good tyre choice and I'm
trying hard, so we'll see if we can catch Toni today."
Fastest time: Seb Loeb (Citroen) 10m 47.2s
SS10: 0813hrs St Bonnet - St Bonnet 1 (25.93km)
This stage was one of the fastest in the event. Highlighting his growing
confidence behind the wheel of the Impreza WRC2006 on asphalt, Chris was
quickest through the stage, 3.6s quicker than Marcus Gronholm. It was
also the first time Chris had set a fastest time on an asphalt special
stage, and the 22nd stage win of his WRC career. It was the Subaru World
Rally Team's first stage win on a hard-surface event since Rallye Monte
Carlo in 2005. Chris smashed the record for the St Bonnet stage, which
was 13m 27s, set by Armin Schwarz in a Toyota Celica in 1996. Crucially,
Chris and Glenn also pulled a further 8.9s clear of Hirvonen and
strengthened his hold on fourth position. Petter was fifth fastest
through the stage with a time of 12m 50.4s, having lost a few seconds
when he briefly understeered wide on a corner. Nevertheless, he set a
time fast enough to move him up the overall order from seventh to sixth,
Fastest time: Chris Atkinson (Subaru) 12m 42.7s
SS11: 0938hrs Lamastre - St Barthelemy Grozon 1 (18.76km)
The last test before the competitors returned to service was very
slippery towards the end, ready to catch out the unwary. Chris was not
able to match his stunning performance on the previous stage and dropped
11.4s to Hirvonen. The Australian felt he was unable to get into a decent
rhythm during the stage. Petter's 11m 56.6s effort put him seventh
fastest, but crucially he only dropped a small amount of time to
Gardemeister, who was fighting with the Norwegian for sixth. Petter said:
"I couldn't get a very good feeling on the wet and slippery roads in
the last two stages, so we were not as quick as I would have liked."
Fastest time: Mikko Hirvonen (Ford) 11m 46.9s
SS12: 1303hrs Labatie D'Andaure - Lolouvesc 2 (19.67km)
After mid-day service, the action began under clear blue skies. Chris
resumed his battle with Hirvonen, but lost fourth place by just
four-tenths of a second. "I struggled with the car moving around too
much," said the Australian. "But we were fast on the next stage this
morning, so we need a quick time to pull it back again." Petter started
the afternoon with a slender lead over Gardemeister, but was
second-fastest and pulled out 11.9s over his rival in the stage to
safeguard his sixth position. "It's going quite well now," reported
the Norwegian, who posted a time of 10m 45.9s. "We are working all the
time to get quicker, but I'm quite happy with the position we are in so
we will just try to make sure we finish."
Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 10m 45.1s
SS13: 1345hrs St Bonnet - St Bonnet 2 (25.93km)
With just two full stages remaining in the rally, Chris knew he had to
respond to Hirvonen to stand any chance of regaining fourth place
overall. Once again he clicked with this fast, flowing piece of road and
stormed to his second fastest stage time of the event, reclaiming his
fourth place in the best way possible. Hirvonen was 7.6s slower, meaning
Subaru's man took a 7.2s advantage into the final test of the day.
Petter came through in 12m 38.7s, significantly faster than his morning
run through the stage, and also 10.8s clear of Gardemeister.
Fastest time: Atkinson (Subaru) 12m 32.4s
SS14: 1510hrs Lamastre - St Barthelemy Grozon 2 (18.76km)
The last stage of Saturday was mainly dry, although there were some
slippery patches of dirt along the second half of the route. Chris knew
his fourth position would come back under attack from Hirvonen on this
test. The Finn won the stage and although Chris was second fastest, he
slipped back to fifth place by just 0.8s. Completing a strong final stage
for the Subaru World Rally Team, Petter was third fastest with a time of
11m 42.8s. After a final service halt in Valence, the rally cars were
loaded onto transporters and taken 300 kilometres south to Monte Carlo
for the Monaco superspecial on Sunday morning.
Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 11m 30.5
Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, Richard Taylor: "There's still one more stage to go but it looks like being a positive start to the season. We're very pleased with the way our new partnership with BFGoodrich has worked. Chris has driven very well throughout the rally and it will be interesting to see if he can grab back fourth place on the superspecial in Monte Carlo tomorrow morning. Overall, Petter has had a good event. For the entire team it has been all about getting a better understanding of the tyres and how our car works on them, and what we've seen gives us a lot of confidence that we can continue to improve the performance of the car as the season progresses."
Chris Atkinson: "We just lost too much time at the end of the final stage today. I thought we'd done enough to hold Mikko back but that wasn't the case. It will certainly make the superspecial in Monaco very interesting and will be good for the spectators. Even though we lost position to Mikko it's been a hugely encouraging weekend. We've been able to battle competitively on asphalt and it's the first time I've been in a position to do that. It's a good step forward for us."
Petter Solberg: "Our position is okay and overall I am very happy with this rally. It has been a tough weekend and the time we lost on the long opening stage on Friday really hurt our chances of getting any higher up the order. Don't forget that we have also been learning more about how the BFGoodrich tyres work with our car this weekend. Chris has gone particularly well and it has been a good team effort. The atmosphere on this rally has been incredible. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. I know the roads pretty well and it's good to know my family will be watching from our apartment!"