Less than a week after claiming victory in Corsica, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg put in a strong performance aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC today as he sought to make up time incurred by a penalty in Leg one. After delivering a string of top...
Less than a week after claiming victory in Corsica, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg put in a strong performance aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC today as he sought to make up time incurred by a penalty in Leg one. After delivering a string of top ten times, the Norwegian will start tomorrow's final leg in tenth position overall. His team-mate Tommi Mäkinen is eleventh. With rain showers forecast for the final Leg, the Subaru duo remain determined to fight for the best position possible.
SS9 0853hrs Olost 1 (23.08km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 11:39.4
The fastest test of the event, the first pass through the opening stage saw Subaru's Peter Solberg reach speeds of more than 200kph. Contesting the test's wide, smooth surface which ran through the village of Olost, renowned asphalt ace Gilles Panizzi was fastest for the stage win, with Martin second and Loeb third. Clearly feeling more comfortable with the set up of his Peugeot following a slow start on Friday, at the end of the test Panizzi lay 31.2 seconds off the overall lead, and with more than 200kph left to run, the Frenchman was looking good for a strong finish. Not so for Skoda and Didier Auriol. Having already picked up a 20 second time penalty for leaving the day's first service late when work on his car's turbo ran over, the Frenchman's Fabia suffered a burned out clutch 3km in. He was forced to retire, bringing his 150th WRC event to an end. Sainz managed only ninth fastest, and fell to fourth overall, while Duval endured a left tyre vibration. He was fourth fastest. After the finish, crews travelled 7.51km north to the start of SS10.
SS10 0941hrs Lluçà (14.04km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 8:15.9
Less than 3.2 seconds separated the top five drivers as they completed the 14km Lluca stage. This time it was Martin who clinched the win, with team-mate Duval taking second and Burns, third. Panizzi and Loeb were next to round off the top five. Struggling with the handling of his Citroen Xsara and unhappy with the suspension set-up changes that had been made during the morning's first service, Carlos Sainz finished sixth fastest, 6.1 seconds slower than the leader. His team-mate McRae was twelfth fastest, having been slowed by a brake problem. A contrast to the previous flat-out speed test, the Lluca stage presented drivers with a more abrasive, twisty route, and corners that became increasingly slippery as the leading cars made cuts, dragging dirt and gravel onto the road. After the finish, crews went directly to the start of SS11.
SS11 1009hrs Sant Boi de Lluçanès 1 (12.85km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 8:06.7
Another win for Panizzi, but it was tight at the top. Completing the test just half a second slower than the Frenchman, young guns Martin and Loeb set exactly the same time to tie for second, while Burns was 2.1 seconds slower for fourth. A good run from Subaru's Petter Solberg saw the Norwegian finish sixth fastest, ahead of Sainz, McRae and Gronholm. There were problems for Ford's Mikko Hirvonen. Having chosen dry weather slick tyres that were too soft and opting for a suspension that was too hard, the young Finn battled to get the most from his Focus and completed the test 14th fastest. A repeat of SS1, but run in the opposite direction, the dry test featured a number of slippery, dirty corners. There were no retirements and after the finish, crews made the short journey back to Vic for a scheduled service.
SS12 1142hrs Sant Julià 2 (26.27km)
Fastest time: Duval (Ford) 15:30.4
A re-run of yesterday's SS4, Sant Julia once again took crews round the infamous hairpin - the 'Panizzi bridge corner', before a very steep, twisty climb and flat out section to the finish. Although Panizzi didn't repeat last year's display of crowd-pleasing donuts, the 26km stage did provide him with an opportunity to increase his position overall. He ended the test second fastest, and moved up into the same position overall, 28.3 seconds behind event-leader Sebastien Loeb. Duval was fastest to clinch his first win of the event, despite struggling with a brake problem, while Gronholm was third. Sainz's unhappy Leg continued. Despite re-adjusting the set up of his Xsara in the preceding service, the Spaniard remained off the pace and managed to finish only tenth fastest. With conditions remaining dry, Subaru's Petter Solberg opted to contest the Leg's middle stages on hard compound dry weather slick tyres and finished seventh fastest. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS13.
SS13 1235hrs Taradell 2 (5.05km)
Fastest time: Burns (Peugeot) 2:58.3
Although only 5km in length, the short blast through the Taradell test was enough for Martin to set the second fastest time and snatch back overall second from Panizzi. At the finish, just half a second separated the pair. Burns was fastest for the stage win (his first since Finland earlier this year), while Sainz was third. An excellent run from Subaru's Petter Solberg saw the Norwegian set exactly the same time as rally leader Loeb, and the pair tied for fifth. But there was a familiar predicament for Skoda's Toni Gardemeister. With his Fabia WRC suffering yet another rear anti-roll bar breakage, it seemed that the problems that had plagued the Finn in Corsica were set to continue. After the finish, crews returned to Vic for another scheduled service.
SS14 1412hrs Olost 2 (23.08km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 11:37.0
Despite reporting he was unable to 'feel' the car through the stage due to whiplash injuries sustained in an accident in Corsica, Markko Martin was fastest through the repeated Olost sprint to take his second win of the day. Recording an average speed of 119.2kph, the Estonian was 3.4 seconds faster than Loeb, and 4.9 seconds faster than Gronholm, who was third. Locked in a battle with Carlos Sainz for overall fourth, Martin's team-mate Duval was also on a charge. He completed the test 4.7 seconds faster than his Spanish rival, but having collected a 10-second penalty for leaving the preceding service 1 minute late while mechanics finished changing a brake pedal box in his Focus, he remained in fifth position overall. After the finish competitors made their way to the start of SS15.
SS15 1500hrs Lluçà 2 (14.04km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 8:19.5
With almost all the corners of the repeated stage littered with dirt and gravel, driving conditions were more difficult on the second pass through the repeated 14.04km test. Martin was again fastest, to notch up his fifth stage win of the event, with team-mate Duval second, and Sainz third. Taking another 5.1 seconds out of Loeb's overall lead, the Estonian also pulled further away from Panizzi in overall third. At the finish 34.8 seconds separated the trio. Continuing his fight-back after collecting a 50 second time penalty on Leg one, Petter Solberg was fourth fastest, and ended the test just 2.7 seconds behind Bulgalski overall. After SS15, crews drove directly to the start of the day's final test, SS16.
SS16 1528hrs Sant Boi de Lluçanès 2 (12.85km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 8:05.5
Responding to Martin's string of stage wins, Loeb upped his performance for the final test of the day to take the stage win and increase his overall lead to 20.3 seconds. Martin was second and Panizzi third, reflecting the positions that the trio held overall. Continuing to fight for overall fourth, Duval was fourth fastest through the rough 12.85km test and finished 1.7 seconds faster than Sainz. But, it wasn't enough. The Spaniard continued to have the edge and ended the day with a 3.6 second advantage. Another strong run from Solberg saw the Norwegian finish seventh fastest, and end the test, just 0.7 seconds behind Bulgalski overall.
Luis Moya, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Sporting Director: "After Petter lost 50 seconds yesterday, we were hoping that a change in the weather would come to our rescue. It didn't happen today, but we're still hopeful that there may be some rain overnight and tomorrow. If that comes, it's very likely that we can make up some positions. The ideal target is to finish within the top eight and hopefully as close to Carlos Sainz as possible. Petter and Tommi have both driven very well, and our dry performance certainly improved with the tyre choices made in the second half of the day. As we all know, rallying is an unpredictable sport and anything can still happen."
Petter Solberg: "I'm very happy with my driving performance today. The tyre we've been working with this afternoon has really put us closer to the leaders on the stage times, and if you take away the penalty I picked up in Leg one, we're actually not that far behind the pace. I've got nothing to complain about with the car, and the results we achieved in the dry have been good. If the weather men get it right, and the rain comes tomorrow, it will be possible to get in the points."
Tommi Mäkinen: "We had a slight problem with the throttle in the two middle stages of the day and that lost us a little bit of time. On the last group of stages we changed the set up of the car, but there was lots of gravel lying on the stages and it didn't work so well. So, the plan is to change it back to the previous set up for tomorrow. I'm still hoping that the rain will come."
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "The rain which we had expected today has not materialised and both Tommi and Petter have continued to use the Pirelli PZero RX pattern, as they did yesterday. Both have been using a medium compound to suit the mild conditions that we have experienced today and have consolidated their position. Rain is again forecast for tomorrow and, if this should occur, we are confident of being able to advance their position."
Team Talk - Co-ordinating Two Consecutive Events
Organising the logistics for a WRC team can be a complex task at the best of times. As well as arranging rooms and flights for sixty on-event staff, the team must also transport all it's freight. Including a custom-built 14-metre hospitality unit, four 36 ton trucks - including a mobile workshop, a mobile kitchen, two recce cars, two management cars, a forklift truck, two minibuses, 300 wheels and more parts, tyres and spares than there is room here to mention, it's not an easy task.
So, with two WRC events being held on consecutive weekends for the first time in the Championship's history, was it a difficult task for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team co-ordinator Ken Rees to prepare? We spoke to him to find out --
"For me, the most difficult thing was preparing for the team members to be away for two events, rather than one. Only six team members returned to the UK between events, and for the others there was no time to make the journey home and take time out to relax after finishing one event and starting the next. We therefore made sure we made time for those members to rest post Corsica, and put time in the schedule exclusively for that.
"Another difficulty was organising all the necessary paperwork, and coping with the sheer volume of it - it was two of everything for this trip! Normally, my bag of paperwork, which includes all the maps, schedules, road books, tickets etc. weighs in at approx 25kilos at the airport, but for this trip it was 48kilos! We obviously had to be very precise during all our pre-planning to make sure we had everything we needed. The other notable change was that I lost usual week post event, which I normally use to conclude everything, such as the team's expenses, writing all the necessary correspondence, and tying up all the loose ends. But this time round, I was already making calls for start of the Spanish event while still in Corsica. Some things have had to wait.
"From a logistics point of view, arranging for the freight to travel directly from Corsica to Spain was actually easier than if it had returned to the UK. It cut out both the return and outbound trips to and from the UK, saving both time and money. The most difficult time was the period between Sanremo and Corsica back in England, when we had to ensure that all the trucks were correctly stocked with the equipment that we'd need for the two tarmac events. With that done, as soon as that the French round was complete, they were able to leave immediately for Spain. It took the truck drivers 21 hours to get from the finish of one event to the start of the next."
So would he welcome a future calendar including two WRC events run on consecutive weekends?
"So long as I had enough notice and the events were of a similar nature, as these have been, then I would certainly be happy to prepare for two events like this again, especially now as we have the experience of having done it! The main thing for me is the well-being of the team, but we've been very careful to ensure that they've had as much rest as possible. It's when we get three in a row that I might start complaining!"
The third and final leg of Rallye Catalunya starts tomorrow at 0530hrs, when the remaining cars will leave Lloret de Mar parc ferme. The final day will see crews contest two loops of three smooth asphalt stages run close to the town of Vic, and a final 103.56 competitive kilometres. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp at 1509hrs.