Rally Australia: Subaru leg one summary

Subaru's Petter Solberg secured second place in the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers' today, despite losing the chance to end the season with an annual total of six WRC wins. Pushing for victory from the outset, the Norwegian made a...

Subaru's Petter Solberg secured second place in the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers' today, despite losing the chance to end the season with an annual total of six WRC wins. Pushing for victory from the outset, the Norwegian made a perfect start before damage to a steering rod brought his competitive event to a premature end. His young Finnish team-mate Mikko Hirvonen holds overnight fifth place after a determined effort aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004.

Stage Reports

SS1: 1838hrs (Thurs) Perth City Super (12.35km)

The final round of the 2004 WRC season got underway last night with a visit to the Super Special stage built at Gloucester Park in central Perth. Although weather conditions were uncharacteristically rainy for the Australian event, they didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands of spectators who filled the grandstands to watch the racing. As cars went head-to-head around the circuit, Marcus Gronholm was quickest to take the overnight lead, although newly crowned 2004 World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and Harri Rovanpera were just 0.3 seconds behind to tie second. Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen were fourth and seventh on the stage respectively after trouble free runs, while Markko Martin ended the stage with his Focus' engine running on only three cylinders. Citroen driver Carlos Sainz had withdrawn from the event after sustaining a neck injury on the recce. However to the delight of the teams and crowds who gave him a standing ovation, the two times World Champion made a final appearance as a full-time WRC works driver by completing a parade lap of the Super Special.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 1:32.9

SS2: 0931hrs Stirling West (15.89km)

It was a bad start to the day for Ford's Markko Martin. Having suffered a drop in engine oil pressure on the previous test, his team diagnosed piston damage in the early morning 10-minute service. Unable to make the necessary repairs the Estonian retired, which meant Subaru driver Petter Solberg secured second place in the 2004 Drivers' Championship. As overnight rain and overcast skies cleared, crews completed a 156km liaison section to the start of the damp, but drying, stage. Presenting a short, twisty route, the test from Stirling West followed the contours of the Stirling Reservoir and included numerous hidden junctions that made it difficult for drivers to correctly judge braking distances. Marcus Gronholm was fastest, with Solberg second and Sebastien Loeb third. Hirvonen was sixth fastest and, after the finish, crews moved to the start of SS3.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 9:14.5

SS3: 1004hrs Stirling Long (34.99km)

Conditions remained damp in places for the second stage run near to the Stirling Reservoir, but at 34km it was the first proper indication of how much time the leaders would concede as they swept away the loose ball-bearing type gravel surface for those following. Having stated that he was optimistic about his chances on the final rally of the year, fourth-on-the-road Gronholm was fastest though the twisty stage to take his third consecutive win. Running second, Solberg was 7.1 seconds off the Finn's winning pace, while first-on-the-road Loeb was a further 4 seconds back in third. Hirvonen was fifth fastest, ahead of Ford's Francois Duval in sixth. There were no leading retirements and, after the stage was complete, crews drove a 50km road section north to Murray for a 10-minute remote tyre fitting service.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 19:51.2

SS4: 1137hrs Murray North (15.92km)

Pushing hard at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2004, Petter Solberg was driving to the limit on SS4 as he battled with Gronholm to snatch the overall lead, but disaster struck 5.8km in: Hitting a rock on the apex of a right-hand bend, the Norwegian damaged his Impreza's front-right steering arm and went off the road. Although Petter tried to continue, the steering was too badly damaged and he retired. Solberg's misfortune was Loeb's gain and the Frenchman took second place overall, as well as the stage win. Gronholm was second quickest while Mikko Hirvonen was third. The Finn completed the stage quicker than Rovanpera and Duval who were fourth and fifth fastest respectively. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS5.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 8:56.9

SS5: 1207hrs Murray South (19.08km)

Run under a dense canopy of branches and leaves, the tree-lined, damp 19km stage from Murray South was narrower and twistier than the first two stages of the day. Setting an average speed of 105.97kph, Loeb was fastest, with Gronholm second and his Finnish team-mate Rovanpera third. There was no change to the overall top eight and, after the stage was complete, crews returned to Perth for a 20-minute service.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 10:48.2

SS6: 1603hrs Beraking 1 (23.03km)

Starting with a series of long, flat-out, sixth-gear straights, the 23km stage from Beraking became increasingly technical and demanding towards the finish. Using a different type of damper on his 307 for this event, Gronholm was happier with the set-up of his Peugeot and was fastest to increase his overall lead to 20.4 seconds. Loeb was second and Rovanpera third. Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen was unable to attack as aggressively as he would have liked through the last 7km due to a problem with his car's braking system that affected the front wheels. He was fifth fastest, 10.6 seconds off fourth-quickest Duval's time. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS7.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 13:03.5

SS7: 1646 Helena South 1 (17.31km)

Setting an average speed of 114.05kph, the highest of the rally so far, Gronholm was fastest on the first pass though the Helena South test, which was based 40km east of Perth. Negotiating the stage's blend of long straights, crests and stomach churning jumps, the Finn was 0.7 seconds ahead of his closest rival Loeb, while Rovanpera was a further 3.1 seconds back for third. Hirvonen's braking problem persisted, making it difficult for him to correctly set up his Impreza on the approach to corners. At one point his car slid too far sideways under braking and he drove over a tree stump, which damaged his car's steering rack and power-assistance system. The Finn lost more than a minute to the leaders, but remained in fifth position overall. Once the stage was complete, crews returned to Perth for a 45-minute service.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 9:06.4

SS8: 1945 Perth City Super 2 (2.35km)
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 1:32.9

SS9: 1954 Perth City Super 3 (2.35km)

A return to the Gloucester Park Super Special bought more close racing from the remaining WRC crews, including Petter Solberg, who had re-joined the event under the FIA re-start system. Competing head-to-head on the floodlit course in front of a crowd of more than ten thousand spectators, the Norwegian was fastest on both stages to take two wins. Event leader Gronholm was joint third fastest through SS8 and fourth through SS9 to end the day with a 21.4 second advantage over second-placed Loeb, while Rovanpera bought his Peugeot home in overnight third. Hirvonen ended the day in overnight fifth.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 1:32.4

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg
It's too bad, I didn't want to end the season like this, but that's just how it is sometimes. Before the incident on SS4 things had started well and I had a good feeling about the event, but we were pushing hard and after the impact there wasn't anything we could do. The damage was actually very little so it was good to get back out in time for the Super Special this evening. It was good to be driving again, it's a great atmosphere here in Australia there's so much support from the fans and I'm really pleased we've secured second in the Drivers' World Championship.

Mikko Hirvonen
It's been quite a tough day, especially with the brake problems on the later stages, but when things worked well I was getting more confident on the stages and that helped a lot. Now that we've established a good base set-up with the car I'm hoping to carry on the progression tomorrow, I'm looking forward to it.

Team Principal, David Lapworth
There's no question that we came here to win, and with the Championships already settled we wanted to end the season on a high with a sixth win for Petter. Clearly it didn't work out and it's disappointing for us all, but we were pushing purely for victory and that means taking risks. Petter was unlucky to collect the damage on the stage, but when you're on the limit you have to accept that sometimes these things happen. It's some consolation that he was able to put on such a good show at the Super Special tonight and he'll start again tomorrow. Mikko had a few difficulties to contend with today, but with fifth overall he's done a good job and we hope he'll have a better day tomorrow.

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio , Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
It was a premature exit for Petter, who up until his retirement was looking promising. Tomorrow our aim will be to demonstrate the superiority of our Pirelli PZero tyres on gravel with Petter under the FIA re-entry system.

Team Talk
The WRC's fascination with gravel down under!

The red earth stages of Rally Australia are renowned for their slippery and inconsistent nature. While a WRC car can generate huge amounts of grip when the surface is clean and hard-packed, other sections feature a unique type of gravel that can easily bring an unplanned trip to the Outback. Subaru team principal David Lapworth explains more:

"When it's dry in Australia, drivers have to deal with a lot of loose gravel. Quite unlike the Welsh or Finnish surface, it's a sort of pea-gravel and is made up of ball-bearing-like stones that lie on top of a hard base. As each car goes through, it cleans off some of the loose stuff and each successive car gets closer to the hard base underneath which gives much more grip. Therefore for each passing car the road gets a little bit faster as their tyres find more of the hard base. In dry conditions the base is hard and dry so tyre wear is much higher. We therefore have to run a harder compound tyre to resist the wear.

To make matters more complicated, when it rains the opposite happens. The clay base underneath the gravel becomes muddy and even more slippery than the loose stones. As the leading cars sweep the loose gravel off the top, those following run on a surface covered in water, mud and slime. It gets worse as each successive car churns up the mud and it spreads, covering stones and so on. Therefore, instead of getting faster, the road gets slower. In wet conditions there is much less tyre wear because that base is so muddy, so we go for a much softer compound as we're looking to obtain the maximum grip."

Tomorrow's Leg

Saturday 13 November 2004
Leg two starts tomorrow at 0800hrs, when the first car will leave Perth parc ferme for a 10-minute service. Crews will then contest a further ten stages and 127.15 competitive kilometres. The first stage, a repeat of the 23.03km stage from Beraking, will start at 0946hrs and the day will conclude with two final laps of the Super Special Stage at Gloucester Park starting at 1945hrs.


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About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team