Monte Carlo: Subaru leg one summary

Retirements: Mäkinen (SS5); Solberg (SS5) David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "We came here with a good deal of confidence and a new car, which has proved to be a significant step forward. Unfortunately, the end result has...

Retirements: Mäkinen (SS5); Solberg (SS5)

David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal:
"We came here with a good deal of confidence and a new car, which has proved to be a significant step forward. Unfortunately, the end result has been disappointing, but sometimes that's just how it is in Monte Carlo. It's especially a shame as both drivers were going steady and were pacing themselves and not pushing too hard. I've said before that it's not unusual to make mistakes on the Monte Carlo Rally, but the driver that wins is the one that's lucky enough to get away with them."

Stage Reports

SS1 0748hrs Prunieres - Embrun (28.36km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 18:07.6

Following his celebrated maiden win at the end of last season, Subaru's Petter Solberg started his challenge for the 2003 Driver's title by setting the second fastest time. Finishing four seconds behind Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm, the Norwegian completed the stage 4.1 seconds ahead of the remainder of the field. A good start for Citroen as they embarked on their first event as a competitor in the 2003 WRC Manufacturer's title. New team drivers Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz clinched third and fourth place respectively, while Sebastian Loeb was fifth. Richard Burns rounded off the top six in his Peugeot WRC. Subaru's Tommi Mäkinen was seventh, after stalling his Impreza on the start line. A bad start for Peugeot's asphalt ace, Gilles Panizzi. The Frenchman not only started the rally with a 60-second penalty picked up during the reconnaissance, but also dropped more than a minute after hitting a rock. Skoda's Toni Gardemeister dropped a cylinder and finished over two minutes off the pace.

SS2 0921hrs Selonnet - Breziers (22.52km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 16:00.3

Despite hard packed ice and treacherous conditions, Marcus Gronholm stormed through the test to finish more than 29 seconds ahead of his rivals and extend his overall lead to 37.7 seconds. Colin McRae was second fastest, followed by Tommi Mäkinen who netted third, despite contending with debris thrown up by the cars running in front of him. The Finn's charge was enough to move him into fifth place overall. Petter Solberg was fourth fastest, while Sebastian Loeb finished fifth. Carlos Sainz, competing for the first time in a Xsara, lost more than a minute when he spun, hit a wall and damaged a wheel, dropping to seventh overall. The stage saw the event's first major retirement when the Skoda of Toni Gardemeister suffered an engine problem.

SS3 1124hrs Prunieres - Embrun 2 (28.36km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 17:54.5

Following Gronholm's sprint in SS2, WRC young guns Sebastian Loeb and Petter Solberg answered the current World Champion by speeding through the test to take the fastest and second fastest stage times respectively. Capitalising on the drier conditions, Loeb sliced more than 13 seconds off Gronholm's previous time (SS1) while Solberg was six seconds quicker. Colin McRae was third fastest and clawed back seven seconds on the Finn's overall lead. Marcus was fourth, with team-mate Richard Burns, fifth. A good run for Ford's top driver Markko Martin, who finished sixth fastest. No such luck for Tommi Mäkinen, however. Halfway through the test, the Finn hit a big stone in the road which broke the inside rim of a front wheel severing the brake pipe, forcing him to complete the stage without brakes. After receiving advice from the team at the end of the test, Tommi and co-driver Kaj Lindstrom made some necessary roadside repairs.

SS4 1257hrs Selonnet - Breziers (22.52km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 15:33.7

Hard packed ice and damp patches on the road continued to cause problems for some of the leading drivers on the second run through Selonnet, including 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg. On the approach to a tight bridge crossing, his Impreza ran wide and hit a bridge post. Although travelling at no more than 5kph the impact damaged his car's radiator and intercooler. Petter restated and went on to complete the stage second fastest. Tommi Mäkinen, running in ninth position overall, continued to be hampered with the brake problems sustained in SS3 and finished 14th. Looking to Ford, Francois Duval hit a tree 3km from the finish and sustained damage to the rear right wheel.

SS5 1433hrs Plan de Vitrolles - Faye (47.27km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 28:54.9

Often cited as the stage that can determine the outcome of this event, the monster 47.27km Plan de Vitrolles run includes it all. Big drops, terrifyingly high climbs, very, very fast downhills and hard packed ice; it's the stage that has everything that makes the Rallye Monte Carlo so famous. Unfortunately, on this occasion it was to be a bad stage for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. After incurring a 40 second penalty in service following his incident in SS4, Petter Solberg's rally came to an abrupt end after 21km of the test. Approaching a fourth gear bridge crossing, his car slid on a damp corner and hit a wall. Although the slippery corner caused problems for many other competitors, cooling system damage meant that Petter could go no further. In another blow to the 555 Subaru Team, Tommi Mäkinen also retired when his Impreza ran wide on an icy section seven km from the start. Frustratingly the car came to rest undamaged but stuck off the road and the crew were unable to rejoin the stage. Looking to the leaders, Loeb was fastest through the test to move up to second overall, Sainz was second and Gronholm third.

SS6 1709hrs Plan de Vitrolles - Faye 2 (47.27km)
Fastest time: McRae (Citroen) and Loeb (Citroen) 30:04.7

No repeat dramas on the second run through the treacherous 47.27k stage. With Tommi and Petter now out of the running, Colin McRae proved he was fast becoming comfortable with his Xsara by taking the joint stage win with new team-mate Loeb. In an excellent stage for the French team, Carlos Sainz was third to give Citroen a 1-2-3. Gronholm was fourth, with Burns fifth and Ford's Martin sixth. Looking to the overall leaderboard at the end of the stage, Loeb was trailing Gronholm by 20.6 seconds, with McRae in third a further 56.0 seconds behind. Burns was fourth, nearly 2 minutes down on his Finnish team-mate, followed by Sainz who rounded off the top five.

Driver Quotes

Petter Solberg: "It's sad, but sometimes that's life. We tried hard and the car worked well. I'm very happy with the improvements that have been made, but we took a tyre decision that had a small risk and, although it worked really well to begin with, it gave us problems later. I turned right on to the bridge 21km in, but it was damp, there was no grip and I hit a wall damaging the radiator on the car. It's a shame because Marcus (Gronholm), Markko (Martin) and Sebastian (Loeb) made the same mistake, but I was unlucky not to get away with it this time. I think we can afford to be positive before Sweden. We've proved the car is good and with Sweden being the closet thing to my home rally, I'm looking forward to it."

Tommi Mäkinen: "What can I say. It would have been nice to get five wins, but Monte Carlo can be full of surprises. The new car was perfect, it worked very well and felt very good to drive. But, our problems started today on SS3 when we hit a stone and damaged the brakes. The team did a great job in service, but the feeling was not quite 100 per cent before SS5. We made some more brake adjustments just before the stage, but 8km in we slid off the road. The car was undamaged but we could not get it back on."

News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "Although today didn't end up as planned, the combination of the drivers performance, the new Subaru Impreza WRC2003 and the Pirelli tyres has instilled confidence for the rest of the season. During the day, Petter and Tommi selected the WX1 Pirelli PO winter tyre option with a single line of studs. We were delighted with our dry tarmac performance and during the day, the drivers grew in confidence in the mixed conditions, which were approximately 80:20 ratio of dry tarmac and snow and ice. "

Technical Talk - Spark Plugs
During rallies such as Monte Carlo where temperatures can drop below freezing, it's vital that the 555 Subaru World Rally Team uses superior components to ensure that the 300bhp Subaru Impreza WRC will run at optimum performance from the outset. The team therefore works with valuable technical partners such as NGK, who supply the team with high-quality spark plugs.

* The spark plug performs a dual role in the Subaru Impreza WRC2003, being used to both ignite the air and fuel mixture and also to remove heat from the combustion chamber

* NGK Rally Spark Plugs are designed for high-powered engines with increased compression ratios and higher rpms. They are able far more durable than spark plugs used in an average road car and are able to withstand repeated cycles of acceleration / deceleration, in addition to long hours of high-speed running

* The specially constructed spark plugs used by the 555 Subaru World Rally Team are made with precious metal alloy ground electrodes for greater durability. They also feature fine-wire centre electrodes to provide better sparking and uniquely configured insulator noses which improve throttle response

* There is no limitation to the amount of times the 555 Subaru World Rally Team can change spark plugs on the Subaru Impreza WRC2003 during an event, and all four can be changed by an experienced rally team in a matter of minutes. If the plugs need changing in parc ferme, the work must be undertaken by the driver and co-driver to comply with FIA regulations

Tomorrow's Leg
Leg two starts at 0640hrs, when the remaining cars will depart Monaco parc ferme. They will then travel directly to a 20-minute service at the service area's harbourside location before driving 77.59km to contest the first stage of the day at Chemins. The first car is expected to start SS7 at 0843hrs. Saturday's leg comprises four special stages, (which are two repeated stages), and a total competitive distance of 114.52 kilometres.


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About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team