New car, new tyres and new surface as Impreza tackles asphalt debut As the Impreza WRC2008 took to asphalt competitively for the first time, the opening day of the wildly popular Rallye Deutschland was characterised by an overwhelming number of...
New car, new tyres and new surface as Impreza tackles asphalt debut
As the Impreza WRC2008 took to asphalt competitively for the first time, the opening day of the wildly popular Rallye Deutschland was characterised by an overwhelming number of spectators and a surprising lack of rain, given the tendency for sporadic showers in the region.
Both cars successfully completed their first day of sealed surface rallying at the hands of Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson, who experienced no major problems despite the significantly different challenge posed by tarmac as opposed the gravel roads that dominated the past three events. Under skies that clouded as the day progressed, the fact that the precipitation stayed at bay didn't stop the dirty tarmac roads from being perilously slippery.
Tyre decisions were less predominant than in previous years with the introduction of the championship's Pirelli control tyre, but on the very first day of competition with their new PZero asphalt offering, teams still had to make the crucial call between hard and soft compounds as the ambient temperature fluctuated.
Before the Impreza WRC2008's asphalt outing this weekend, Solberg and Atkinson had two days' testing on sealed surface using the PZeros, and the car itself has only a further five days' tarmac testing at the hands of official test driver Markko Martin. Therefore much of what was experienced today formed a steep learning curve for the team. It was a case of a new car on new tyres and on a new surface.
"Today was an encouraging start to our asphalt debut considering we haven't done much testing on this surface with the new car" said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. "The drivers are getting used to the car in these conditions and both reported a good balance although we can already identify where there is more speed to come. We had soft tyres in the morning and hard in the afternoon, which was perhaps a mistake, but otherwise it's been a successful first day for the car on asphalt."
The morning ran smoothly and the SWRT crews completed the initial loop of three stages with Atkinson in fifth position and Solberg sixth overalll. The afternoon however was a less predictable affair. Stage five was cancelled after the top seven crews had reached the finish when Ford's Gigi Galli crashed heavily in a narrow wooded section, although both drivers are ok.
No sooner had Atkinson and Prevot completed the day's final and shortest stage and it too was cancelled. This time it was on safety grounds due to the sheer number of spectators who ventured just too close to the action on the narrow and winding routes. Despite the slick organisation, it was deemed the only feasible option was for the remaining cars, including Solberg and Mills, to drive through the stage non-competitively and be given an arbitrary time equal to that of the second fastest stage time.
"It's not been bad today, you know. The car's been consistent, and although we're sixth, it's been feeling pretty good" said Petter Solberg. "There are a few areas we're lacking in, but we haven't run much on tarmac so it's sort of expected at this point. We're trying very hard and we're learning and have some ideas for tomorrow, but we had no problems today. It's a shame about the final stage, but you have to respect the decision of the organisers and accept that it was the right thing to do. It's too bad for the people who are actually coming to watch the stages, but that's a part of the game. It's unbelievable the number of people here, like Finland, and it's great for the sport anyway."
"OK, today has not been perfect, we're not as quick as we wanted to be and seventh isn't what we were aiming for, but it's not been so bad" said Chris Atkinson. "The car is getting better on tarmac. There are still a few things to fine-tune to get the speed we're missing, but we keep working on it this weekend and I think if we can get there we'll be ok. We're still lacking a little confidence in these conditions, but then we haven't done much testing. People were changing tyre compounds from the morning to the afternoon, from hard to soft, so for me I don't think our tyre choice made so much difference. Some areas we lost a bit, but some weren't so bad so it pretty much worked out. Tomorrow will be difficult and we're a little way down the order, but we'll keep working hard and improving as much as we can."
The second day of Rallye Deutschland is what many believe will decide the outcome of this event. Eight stages and a shade fewer than 160 competitive kilometres, it includes the longest and most gruelling of the rally. The Arena Panzerplatte stage runs for 30 kilometres along the cracked, dirty and abrasive concrete of the Baumholder military range and packs a real sting for wayward cars. Weather is always a lottery here, but rain tomorrow would make the shiny tarmac even more slippery and treacherous.