Final twist in Spain sees all three SWRT entries in the top ten On the final day of Rally Catalunya, Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson were locked in yesterday's tooth-and-nail battles for position, making for a tense finish to the Impreza ...
Final twist in Spain sees all three SWRT entries in the top ten
On the final day of Rally Catalunya, Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson were locked in yesterday's tooth-and-nail battles for position, making for a tense finish to the Impreza WRC2008's second asphalt rally. Frenchman Brice Tirabassi successfully completed his competitive debut with SWRT inside the top ten having delivered an impressive performance on only his second time behind the wheel of the new Impreza.
"It was a solid performance from all three of our drivers today" said David Richards. "Now the key is to build and improve on this as we go to Corsica in only one week's time."
The final day of Rally Catalunya started with a chill in the air, causing some split tyre compound decisions across the field. Solberg and Atkinson opted for hard tyres all day, whilst Tirabassi was one of three front-running crews to opt for the soft variant in the morning. Whilst posting some very fast stage starts, including the joint second fastest opening sector in the morning's first stage, Tirabassi was penalised over the first three stages as the air and tyre temperatures increased.
Trading stage times with Urmo Aava throughout the day, Solberg and Phil Mills battled hard in a tense scrap with the Citroen entry. Edging further ahead of the pursuing Aava in the morning, the Estonian clambered ahead in the early afternoon as the two crews traded times in the most exciting battle for position of the rally. Solberg and Mills responded on the penultimate stage and were on track to re-pass Aava before he slid off the road mid-stage, and the SWRT crew reclaimed a hard-won fifth position.
"For sure it's been a tough rally for us, and fifth place is fifth place but it's good to be a little way up there" said Petter Solberg. "The car actually felt a little better in the last two stages after I made some changes, so it's the right direction but we still have more to do. Now we have Corsica straight after to continue this work."
Atkinson and Stephane Prevot similarly stretched their lead over Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala with a solid performance in the morning, nearly doubling the overnight gap to 4.3seconds. The race between the two was equally as exciting and tense, the gap as slight as 0.1seconds at times. As the rally neared its feverish conclusion, Latvala edged ahead of the Australian who, also benefiting from Aava's early exit, crossed the finish in seventh overall.
"For me I had a good weekend and personally I feel I drove well" said Chris Atkinson. "If we had the same times all weekend we'd have been with Petter as we matched him all weekend. But I'm happy with my performance and satisfied with my driving. We won't make any real changes for Corsica."
Tirabassi and Fabrice Gordon showed good pace during the weekend, the SWRT debutants impressively finishing tenth overall. After three days of encouraging pace and a close battle of their own, the pair moved into eleventh when Conrad Rautenbach crashed halfway through the first test of the morning. On stage 15, the morning's finale and the shortest of the rally, Tirabassi and Gordon posted their second top-ten stage time of the rally before moving into tenth with Aava's demise on the day's penultimate stage.
Switching for the universally favoured hard tyres for the warmer afternoon stages, the duo satisfied all their objectives from this inaugural event, building their confidence ahead of their home rally in Corsica next weekend.
"I am happy with this weekend as we have had good performance and also learnt a lot" said Brice Tirabassi. "I feel more comfortable with the car for Corsica, which is important, but as well as learning a lot this weekend we have also got a good result which I am pleased with. It has been a good weekend for me, and I hope we can continue to learn and get better next week."
Just four days after Catalunya, crews will cross the start ramp of the second asphalt rally in as many weeks, Rallye de France Tour de Corse. A short hop across the Mediterranean to the island of Corsica presents the most stunning rally of the year. Once nicknamed the rally of 10,000 corners, the tight and twisty routes that wind through the Corsican coastal mountains are well known for their steep drops and sharp hairpin bends. Based in the port of Ajaccio on the western coast, the roads are bumpier and more abrasive than those seen in Spain, making for a tough challenge on the 16 stages and 359.02 kilometres of competition.