A day of mixed fortunes for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. After clinching a stage win and demonstrating the competitive performance of the Subaru Impreza WRC, Petter Solberg collected a 50 second time penalty after an unexpected service delay....
A day of mixed fortunes for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. After clinching a stage win and demonstrating the competitive performance of the Subaru Impreza WRC, Petter Solberg collected a 50 second time penalty after an unexpected service delay. At the end of Leg 1, he holds overnight eleventh place, while his team-mate Tommi Mäkinen holds overnight ninth. However, with almost 240 competitive kilometres remaining, the team remain committed to achieving a strong result.
SS1 0848hrs La Trona 1 (13.17km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 8:23.6
It was a battle of the WRC young guns on the first pass through the cold and smooth la Trona stage. Fresh from his emphatic victory in Corsica, Subaru's Petter Solberg was fastest to clinch the stage win, with Francois Duval second and Markko Martin, third. The Norwegian's win was by the slimmest of margins; just 0.3 seconds separated the trio at the finish, and with Citroen's Sebastien Loeb finishing fourth, it looked set to be a thrilling opening leg. Regarded by Subaru co-driver Phil Mills as a classic asphalt stage, the test saw crews contest a smooth, twisty climb to the top of a col, followed by a short, fast descent to the finish. With conditions reported to be dry, all the WRC crews opted to run on slick tyres for the first three stages, but using varying compounds. Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm, running on a soft compound, struggled to find sufficient grip and dropped over ten seconds. After the finish, crews completed the 12.10km road section to the start of SS2.
SS2 0921hrs Alpens-Les Llosses 1 (21.80km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 13:07.3
Having announced that a good result in Catalunya was vital following his disappointment in Corsica, Sebastien Loeb was on the attack from the outset. Charging through the twisty Alpens test, the Frenchman was fastest to break Tommi Mäkinen's 2001 stage record (13:30.0), and take both the stage win and overall lead. At the finish he held a 5.4 second advantage. Sainz was second fastest and Martin third, while Subaru's Petter Solberg was sixth fastest, after collecting a puncture. Gronholm continued to struggle on his worn slick tyres, dropping a further 40 seconds to the leaders, while Duval lost twenty seconds after stalling on the start line. Not such a great start for Skoda's Toni Gardemeister either. Contesting the morning's stages with a new rear anti-roll bar in his Fabia WRC after the original broke during Thursday's shakedown, the Finn complained of severe understeer and managed to finish only sixteenth fastest. After the finish, crews moved directly to the start of SS3.
SS3 1029hrs La Pobla de Lillet 1 (22.55km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 15:03.5
Another win for Loeb, this time on the first pass through the new 'stage of two halves', the long La Pobla de Lillet. Starting with a very twisty and abrasive section, the second half was exceptionally narrow, with drivers facing smooth asphalt and numerous, deceptive crests. Completing the test 3.4 seconds slower than Loeb, Sainz was second fastest, to the delight of his home fans, while Solberg was third. Best of the Fords was Martin who was sixth fastest, despite complaining of continuing pain from whiplash injuries sustained in his accident in Corsica. There were no leading retirements and after the finish, crews returned to Vic for a scheduled service.
SS4 1312 Saint Julià 1 (26.27km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 15:35.3
Tense moments for Subaru during Service B, the scheduled stop before crews made the 13km liaison journey to Saint Julia for the longest test of the day. As Solberg was due to leave service, mechanics discovered a damaged alternator. With the allowed 20-minute service time having already passed, the team were forced to use an extra five minutes to replace the component, and in doing so, incurred a 50 second time penalty. The incident dropped Solberg down the overall standings and at the end of the test he lay in tenth position overall. There were problems too for Skoda, this time for the 2001 Catalunya winner, Didier Auriol. Contesting his 150th WRC event, the Frenchman's car collected exhaust damage mid test, and he was sixteenth fastest. With the test including one of the most photographed corners in the championship, the infamous 'Panizzi bridge' corner (where the Frenchman played to the crowd by performing donuts in 2002), thousands of spectators lined the stage, many having waited hours to catch a glimpse of their favourite drivers. Looking to the leaders, Loeb was fastest, with a rejuvenated Panizzi, now running on harder compound tyres, finishing second and Duval, third. After the finish, crews moved directly to the start of SS5.
SS5 1405hrs Taradell 1 (5.05km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 2:56.2
No problems for any of the leading crews through the short Taradell stage. Despite having trouble holding his head upright due to his neck injury and the g-forces in the cockpit of the car, Markko Martin was fastest for the stage win. A Citroen, Peugeot tie for second as Carlos Sainz and Gilles Panizzi set exactly the same time, while Loeb was fourth. At the finish there was no change to the overall top ten and crews returned to Vic for the third scheduled service.
SS6 1532hrs La Trona 2 (13.17km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 8:15.7
With temperatures remaining at around 10 degrees for the repeated La Trona stage, this time it was Panizzi who clinched the stage win, finishing 2.9 seconds ahead of Markko Martin, who was second. Francois Duval was third, which was enough to move him up to sixth ahead of McRae in the overall standings, while Burns was fourth, the position that he held overall. Not a good stage for Ford's young driver Mikko Hirvonen. His car struck by a hydraulic problem, the Finn lost over half a minute to the leaders and with two more stages to run before the next scheduled service, he was likely to lose more time before attention could be received. Although conditions remained dry, those running further down the order faced an increasingly slippery road surface as drivers cut corners pulling dirt and gravel onto the roads, but there were no leading retirements. After the finish, crews moved directly to the start of SS7.
SS7 1605hrs Alpens-Les Llosses 2 (21.80km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 13:10.6
Having admitted that he'd struggled to find the right set up throughout Sanremo and Corsica, asphalt expert Panizzi demonstrated his true form on the second pass through the long Alpens test and was fastest to take his second consecutive stage win. Duval was second quickest, with Loeb third to remain in the overall lead. It wasn't all smiles for the Peugeot team however. Struggling on the route's slippery sealed surface, Burns skidded off the road and collected substantial cosmetic damage to the rear of his 206WRC. He was able to complete the test, but the incident cost him 40 seconds and overall fourth place. He ended the test in seventh overall. After the finish, crews travelled 25.56km to the start of the Leg's final speed test, SS8.
SS8 1713hrs La Pobla de Lillet 2 (22.55km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 14:55.3
Proving the pace that's making him become recognised as an expert on sealed surface events, Sebastien Loeb repeated his earlier charge through the long La Pobla de Lillet test, and sliced 8.2 seconds from his previous time to finish fastest for his fourth win of the day. Panizzi was second fastest with Burns third. Continuing to be plagued by hydraulic problems, Hirvonen dropped another minute and a half to the leaders and ended the test well down the leaderboard. He would have been relieved to return to service with the other crews after crossing the finish.
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "We made a great start to this event with Petter setting a fastest time. It was very promising, which then made it all the more disappointing when we found the problem with Petter's car in service and lost some time. But, there are still plenty of kilometres left for Petter and Tommi to fight back and I think our championship rivals at the top of the leaderboard are under a lot of pressure. We just need to ensure we get a clear run to the finish of this rally and that will keep us in the hunt for the Championship title."
Tommi Mäkinen: "I'm pretty happy with the set-up of the car ahead of tomorrow's stages and we haven't had to change much at all today. If it's cool and damp tomorrow morning then we'll have a good opportunity to move up the leaderboard. It's raining a little bit on some of the stages at the moment, and if that it continues tomorrow, then anything can happen."
Petter Solberg: "It's not been a good day, but I'm hopeful that there's still time to catch up the leaders. We lost 50 seconds in service when we had a problem with the alternator and I just had to sit in the car and wait for it to be fixed. But, looking back we 're actually very lucky that the guys found the problem or we could have retired. Today is just the first day and hopefully we can turn things around and improve our position. There's nothing wrong at all with my motivation."
NEWS FROM PIRELLI
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "Today started very well, with Petter setting a fastest stage time. Unfortunately, as can be the case with rallying, luck isn't always on your side, hence the end of Leg one positions. However, as in Corsica, the weather forecast shows that rain is likely tomorrow, and if this proves to be correct we're confident that we can once again fight for a podium position. Both Tommi and Petter selected the Pirelli PZero RX tarmac tyre today. However, if the rain that's forecast does materialise we also have the option of using the Pirelli PZero RE wet weather tarmac tyre."