Leg two of Rally Australia got underway at 0700hrs this morning, when 55 of the original 69 starters left Perth for the longest day of the event. Ahead of them lay 11 gravel stages and a total competitive distance of 147kms. Today's action took...
Leg two of Rally Australia got underway at 0700hrs this morning, when 55 of the original 69 starters left Perth for the longest day of the event. Ahead of them lay 11 gravel stages and a total competitive distance of 147kms.
Today's action took place in the countryside to the east of Perth and was centred on a service park in the town of Chidlow, before another evening visit to the Langley Park Super Special stage in Perth. The stages presented a tricky variety of conditions that ranged from narrow, twisty tracks through pine plantations, to wider open sections that were driven flat-out. Intermittent rain showers in the morning kept the stages damp in places, but generally conditions were good, with far less muddy sections that yesterday.
Ahead of tomorrow's four final stages Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm holds the lead, with 555 Subaru Team driver Petter Solberg in second after another trouble-free run. Gronholm's team mate Harri Rovanpera is third, Carlos Sainz fourth for Ford with the second Subaru Impreza of Tommi Mäkinen rounding off the top five. In a day that featured more consolidation than thrills and spills, Colin McRae was the most significant retirement, the Scot withdrew after his car was damaged on SS14.
SS10 0841hrs Kev's (9.56km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 5:51.8
The Impreza crew of Solberg and Mills went fastest to break Peugeot's run of six consecutive stage wins, but things were tight through the short opening test. Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera put in a strong charge and was next quickest, while Gronholm was third - the top three separated by just one second. Ford's Carlos Sainz, who held third overall, pushed hard to try and catch Solberg. But the best El Matador could manage was fourth on the stage and he remained seven seconds off the Norwegian overall. Tommi Mäkinen was fifth despite losing around six seconds with a stall on the start line.
SS11 0920hrs Beraking (26.46km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 14:23.3
Stage win for Rovanpera, with Gronholm second and Solberg third. This performance from Harri, combined with a poor time from Carlos Sainz moved the Peugeot driver up to third overall, 20 seconds behind Petter, while Carlos dropped to fourth.
SS12 1011hrs Helena South 1 (18.43km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 9:28.9
After an inconspicuous start to the rally, Harri Rovanpera's impressive leg two form continued and he recorded his second consecutive stage win. But the man that Rovanpera was chasing, Subaru's Petter Solberg, was right behind, and dropped just 0.4 sec of his 20-second advantage. Marcus Gronholm was third fastest. Carlos Sainz was hampered by a poor tyre choice and dropped nine seconds to the leading trio. Sainz had started the leg looking to catch second place, but his fourth place was now under threat from Tommi Mäkinen who was catching fast. After the stage, crews returned to Chidlow for a 20-minute service.
SS13 1229hrs York Railway (5.30km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera / McRae (Peugeot / Ford) 2:32.3
Fresh from service and faced with a short 5km sprint along a fast sandy clay road, the action was extremely close. Rovanpera and McRae both recorded a time of 2m 32.3s to go joint quickest, Gronholm was third, less than a second back, while Sainz and Solberg stopped the clock on 2m 34.9s to tie fourth.
SS14 and SS15 1303hrs and 1314hrs Muresk 1 and 2 (6.81km)
Fastest time: SS14 Mäkinen (Subaru) 3:24.9
Fastest time: SS14 Rovanpera (Peugeot) 3:24.0
A popular stage incorporating the 'Muresk Humps' in the spectator area and the famous 'Grid Flyover' jump near the end. Both stages were run concurrently and on the first pass Subaru reigned supreme, with Tommi Mäkinen taking his first stage win of the rally and Peter Solberg right behind in second. Colin McRae finished third, but a nose-heavy landing after the grid jump damaged the cooling system on his Ford Focus and the Scot retired before the start of SS15. On the repeat run as SS15 Harri Rovanpera and Carlos Sainz took the joint win with a time of 3:24.0, with Gronholm third. Mäkinen was fourth with Solberg sixth after a half-spin cost him four seconds.
SS16 1441hrs Flynns Short (19.98km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 11:33.8
He'd been off the top spot for a while, but on SS16 Marcus Gronholm collected his first stage win of the day and edged a further six seconds ahead of the field. Petter Solberg was next quickest, 0.4 sec quicker than Harri Rovanpera who was third. The overall gap between the pair now stood at 16 seconds. Jani Paasonen rolled his Mitsubishi Lancer WRC and although able to continue he dropped around a minute - enough to let Juha Kankkunen through into 10th overall. Crews headed back to Chidlow straight after the stage for a 20-minute service.
SS17 1605hrs Helena North Extended (28.87km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 16:20.7
The longest stage of the day saw another win for Gronholm, with Solberg right behind in second and Rovanpera third. Marcus pulled 47 seconds clear at the top of the table, while Solberg gave himself a little more breathing space by moving 20 seconds clear of Rovanpera.
SS18 1638hrs Helena South 2 (18.43km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 9:20.7
Consolidation seemed to be the name of the game, and the positions of the seven fastest drivers on the stage exactly mirrored their places overall. The gaps between the top five were looking more and more consistent, and barring mechanical mishaps the only chance of movement in the top-10 seemed to be in the battle for sixth between Ford team mates Markko Martin and Francois Duval. Martin had the edge on this occasion, but the difference between the pair was less than half a second.
SS19 1703hrs Atkins (4.42km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 2:58.2
Gronholm won the stage, but for a change a Subaru wasn't best of the rest - instead there were two of them. Mäkinen and Solberg both completed the 4km stage in 2m 59s, to tie the runner-up spot. In the battle of the Fords, Duval and Martin switched places (for the third time in as many stages) and Duval took fifth by a margin of 0.7 secs. Cars then returned to service and drove to Langley Park.
SS20 1949hrs Langley Park Super Special 3 (2.20km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 1:27.6
Fireworks, air-displays, and 10,000 spectators, but no problems for the leading competitors on the third and final pass through the Langley Park Super Special Stage. Solberg took the win.
Petter Solberg: "Everything's been under control today, we've not been taking any big risks, there have been a few small things, but when the car's been perfect I can go very quickly. The plan for tomorrow is to try to improve my rhythm on the Sotico stages. Tommi was beating me there last year but I have better pace notes and the car fits me better this time around - I'm looking forward to it."
Tommi Mäkinen: "Things have been getting better today, the car feels much improved. We had a few problems with the tyres, but overall I've managed to consolidate our position. I really like the Sotico stages, they've been very good to me in the past, and we'll be trying to go flat out there tomorrow."
Team Principal David Lapworth: "It's been another positive day for the team, and we're happy with Petter and Tommi's positions. Of course we want to be in the lead, but you have to give credit to Marcus, he's driving like a man inspired - for Petter to keep so close to that sort of performance is a real credit to him and the car. We've consistently proved to be the best of the rest and although Harri (Rovanpera) was trying very hard, he was unable to do anything about Petter today and that's very encouraging."
Technical talk - Leg Two, A Co-driver's Perspective
Holding second place tonight, the 555 Subaru partnership of Solberg and Mills has proved one of the most successful on the event so far. So what was Phil paying special attention to during today's 11 stages?
Corners: "This event has got some very, very, very long corners, some of which go on for 500 metres and in some sections I've got whole lines in the pace notes describing just one. Sometimes they'll have multiple apexes, then there are others that open, then tighten and so on. It's difficult to read the note at the right moment, but here you have to be bang-on."
Pea-Gravel: "Everyone talks about it, no one wants to be in it. It's super slippery and costs a lot of time if you get bogged down. My job is to help Petter stay in the 'magic line' and out of the loose stuff."
Trees: "In Australia, if it goes wrong, it tends to go wrong quickly. Along the forestry tracks and through the plantations of leg two there's no margin for error. You'll see a lot of cars trailing bits of rear bumpers where they've tapped the scenery, and that's to be expected."
Shadows: "Sounds odd, but these can really affect the visibility from the car, especially on today's sections where we tackled long stages through the pine forests in bright conditions. The trees cast very long and defined shadows, and in some lights it can be hard to tell them apart from trees. It's quite hard to explain unless you've been there, but I reckon it makes today's stages some of the hardest in the WRC."
The final leg starts from Perth at 0700hrs when crews leave Parc Ferme and drive 112km south east to the day's central service point in the midst of the Sotico pine plantation. From there they'll tackle the last four stages, culminating with the famous 35km Bannister North section. The winning car is expected to cross the finish podium back in Perth at 1600hrs.