Rally Catalunya: Subaru leg one summary

As expected, the inconsistent autumnal weather made Leg one of Rally Catalunya a difficult one for most competitors. Conditions altered throughout the day, often during individual stages, and forced Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen to make some...

As expected, the inconsistent autumnal weather made Leg one of Rally Catalunya a difficult one for most competitors. Conditions altered throughout the day, often during individual stages, and forced Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen to make some difficult compromises when selecting their tyres for the two loops of three stages. However, a consistent performance from both means they end the day in fifth and eighth places respectively. Both Imprezas ran without fault and the Subaru duo remain committed to achieving the best possible result over the next two days.

Stage Reports

SS1: 0906 La Trona 1 (13.17km)

Taking crews on a steady climb to an altitude of 900 metres above sea level, the smooth asphalt stage from La Trona included a series of tight corners and a narrow bridge crossing. Following overnight rain, road conditions were damp and corners became even more slippery as each car dragged a little roadside gravel onto the racing line. Running sixth on the road, Ford's Francois Duval was fastest, despite sliding near the finish and hitting a post, which pushed some bodywork onto his right rear tyre. Sebastien Loeb was second and Markko Martin third. Subaru's Petter Solberg was fifth fastest in his Impreza, while team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was thirteenth. There were no leading retirements and after the finish, crews drove a 12km liaison section directly to the start of SS2.
Fastest Time: Duval (Ford) 8:33.7

SS2: 0934 Alpens-Les Llosses 1 (21.80km)

A classic asphalt stage, the test from Alpens took crews along a wide, fast and flowing road, followed by a narrow section through a forest and a high-speed sprint to the finish. Recording an average speed of 99.47kph, Citroen's Sebastien Loeb was fastest, with Markko Martin second and Mitsubishi's Gilles Panizzi third. Running on heavily cut slick tyres, Peugeot's Freddy Loix struggled to find sufficient grip in the drying conditions and was thirteen fastest, while Duval lost time due to damage he had sustained on the previous test. Petter Solberg suffered a distraction when his in-car intercom stopped working and he was forced to switch to a back-up system, while his team-mate Hirvonen collected a puncture 6km from the finish. After the stage, crews stopped for a re-fuel before moving to the start of SS3.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 13:09.0

SS3: 1032 Gombrèn-St. Jaume Frontanyà 1 (22.55km)

Including a surface change 8km from the start, as well as a tricky series of bends behind crests and uphill hairpins, the 22km stage from Gombren is regarded as one of the most difficult of the event. Having now pulled the bodywork clear of the rear wheel, Francois Duval was fastest, while Markko Martin was second and Marcus Gronholm third. Competing in his home event for possibly the last time following his recent decision to retire at the end of the season, Carlos Sainz was fourth fastest. There were problems for Peugeot when Freddy Loix suffered an alternator-related electrical problem in his 307WRC near to the start. The Belgian was unable to continue and retired, leaving Gronholm as the team's remaining driver. In the Subaru camp, Solberg was sixth fastest, despite suffering a spin and a recurrence of the intercom problem between himself and co-driver Phil Mills. Their team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was seventh fastest. After the finish, crews returned to Vic for a 20-minute service.
Fastest Time: Duval (Ford) 15:43.2

SS4: 1340 La Trona 2 (13.17km)

As the rain held off, conditions were drier for the second pass through the narrow, twisty 13.17km test. Francois Duval was fastest and shaved 6.5 seconds off his previous La Trona time to take his third win of the event, while Martin was second and Gronholm third. Solberg was fifth fastest and Hirvonen was ninth. Having made a promising start to the event, Mitsubishi driver Gilles Panizzi lost time due to a poor tyre choice. His modified intermediate tyres with extra cuts didn't suit the drying conditions and he struggled to find the necessary traction to challenge the leaders. He ended the stage fifteenth fastest, 23.2 seconds off the winning pace. Once the stage was complete, crews travelled 12km north to the start of SS5.
Fastest Time: Duval (Ford) 8:27.2

SS5: 0934 Alpens-Les Llosses 2 (21.80km)

Just over three seconds separated the top three drivers at the end of the repeated stage from Alpens. Loeb was back on the pace and was fastest by 5.2 seconds to snatch back the overall lead and take his second stage win. His closest rival, Duval was second quickest, while Martin was a further 2.5 seconds back for third. Contested at an altitude of more than 800 metres above sea level, the twisty, repeated stage presented drivers with numerous opportunities to cut corners and find the straightest, quickest driving line in their lowered, asphalt specification cars. Solberg was sixth fastest, while Hirvonen, with limited experience of driving the Impreza on a sealed surface, was eleventh. There were no leading retirements, yet Panizzi lost another 48 seconds to the leaders as he continued to struggle on his tyres that were more suited to wet-weather conditions. After the finish, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of the Leg's final test.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 13:33.6

SS6: 1506 Gombrèn-St. Jaume Frontanyà 2 (22.55km)

There was a bitter disappointment for Duval on the second and final pass though the 22km test from Gombren. Having set a time that was 3.3 seconds faster than his team-mate Martin at the mid stage split, the Belgian cut a corner too severely in his Focus, hit a rock and sustained extensive damage to its front-left wheel and suspension. He was able to complete the stage, albeit 1 minute 28 seconds off the winning time, but later retired on the road section back to service. Sebastien Loeb also set a blistering pace through the first section of the stage, but dropped time to Martin through the final quarter when he too hit a rock and crossed the finish second fastest, allowing Martin to take the win. Solberg was fifth fastest to move up to the same position overall, while Hirvonen was seventh fastest to end the day in overall eighth. After the stage, crews returned to Vic for a 45-minute end of day service.
Fastest Time: Martin (Ford) 15:32.2

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg
It's certainly been a tough day. Mechanically things have been 100 per cent and the car has felt fine but, even though our tyre choices have been good, the stage conditions change so much from one part to the next that it's difficult to get into a consistent driving rhythm. I hope tomorrow we can get some more consistent conditions.

Mikko Hirvonen
Yes, it's not been so bad, I'm reasonably happy with the day as a whole. The important thing for me is to compare my driving with Petter's and after each stage it's getting better and better. Ideally I'd like some damp weather tomorrow, I think that would give me the best chance of catching those drivers in front.

Team Principal, David Lapworth
It's been a difficult day for everybody. With unpredictable weather conditions altering the character of the stages for just about every driver, tyre choices are inevitably a compromise. Sometimes the weather makes that choice is just right, while at other times it's less than ideal. Of course there are many different factors to consider, but today at least the stage times reflect our tyre choices more than anything else. Mechanically, both cars have run perfectly all day, and with similar weather forecast until the end of the rally we're hoping for a better performance on the two remaining Legs.

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
The day was characterised by a wide range of performances under difficult conditions. Petter and Subaru were able to run at the pace of the leaders over some of the splits thanks to the excellent heat retention of Pirelli's P Zero RX7 tyres for damp weather.

Team Talk

One Engine, Two Events
This weekend in Catalunya WRC teams are testing a new technical regulation to be applied from the start of the 2005 season, which requires cars to use the same engine for two rallies. Introduced primarily as a cost-cutting measure, the idea to use engines twice was developed by a technical working group that comprised representatives from manufacturer teams and the FIA.

Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth, explains more:
It's the first time in the history of the WRC that we've done this, but it's a good opportunity to test out the theory before the system is introduced properly next year. The idea is pretty simple; instead of building sixteen engines a year for each car, we build eight and ensure they last. As a team we're certainly in favour as it helps reduce costs and, as events have been getting shorter over the years, keeps some emphasis on durability and reliability. I estimate that next year, each WRC engine will cover about 1,000 stage kilometres.

Although we're still able to check the engine on a dynamometer and replace ancillary components like the turbo or the exhaust system between the two rallies, scrutineers will seal the block and cylinder heads to prevent any internal work. If a new engine is required, then a 20 second time penalty will be added for the next rally. The only exception is if a car retires on the first rally, then a new engine may be fitted without incurring any extra time.

The Subaru flat-four engine has proved to be a strong and reliable unit and we're not expecting to 'de-tune' it in any way to cope with the extra mileage. On this rally we're running exactly the same settings as usual, and see no reason why, in the long term, engine life can't be extended to four or even five events

Tomorrow's Leg

Saturday 30 October 2004
Starts at 0600hrs when the first car will leave Lloret de Mar parc ferme and complete the 80km liaison section to the single service park in Vic. Crews will then contest two loops of four stages separated by a 20-minute service. Comprising 162.88 competitive kilometres, the Leg is the longest of the event and will conclude after a 45-minute service starting at 1706hrs.


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About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team