Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) briefly led before Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) established himself in top spot. The Finn's only problem came when a heavy landing over a jump near the start of stage five injured co-driver Timo...
Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) briefly led before Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) established himself in top spot. The Finn's only problem came when a heavy landing over a jump near the start of stage five injured co-driver Timo Rautiainen's back. The pain was so intense that Gronholm tackled the rest of the stage and the next driving blind without pace notes. His lead dropped to just 1.8sec, but Rautiainen recovered and Gronholm widened his lead again to 5.8sec. Loeb stalled at the start of stage five and co-driver Daniel Elena also injured his back at the same point as Rautiainen. Solberg rolled on the penultimate stage but lost only 20sec, dropping to fourth and allowing Markko Martin (Peugeot) into third. Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) struggled all day with gear ratios that were too long while team-mate Gigi Galli retired on the opening stage when he went off the road, ripping the front left wheel from his car. Jani Paasonen (Skoda) lost two minutes in a ditch while trying to get passed Galli's car and then retired after the car's right rear suspension broke when landing after a jump. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) went out after hitting a rock on the inside of a corner and breaking his front left suspension and steering.
After 144 km of competitive action in the Finish forests, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen WRC have emerged in 2nd position, 5.8 seconds behind Marcus Gronholm. Francois Duval and Sven Smeets are 8th and in the provisional Drivers' and Manufacturers' points.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "It's been a superb day. There's nothing like a good fight. I have an excellent feeling with the car and I'm 100% confident. Marcus pushed very hard, but so did I. I am pleased to have succeeded in taking the fight to the fastest home grown star on this event.and I hope it will continue that way tomorrow!"
Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "I used the same set-up as Sebastien and ran harder tyres for the second loop (SS5/6). I think the set-up was too soft and the tyres were too hard for a first run at a stage. I kept the same rubber for the final loop but reverted to my own set-up. I'm in the points. That's the objective and I'll keep to the same pace tomorrow."
After an incident-filled first day of Rally Finland for the Subaru team, Petter Solberg holds fifth place overall, but remains less than five seconds behind the top-three with two days of competition still to go. Solberg recorded a string of top-three times during the Leg, and won two stages outright, before a dramatic landing after a jump on SS8 cost him 20 seconds and two positions on the leaderboard. Chris Atkinson's encouraging WRC debut in Finland came to an end on SS4 after a collision with a rock. He will re-start tomorrow under the Superally regulations to get more experience of the specialist conditions.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "The car and tyres were improving through the day and we were in a good position near the top of the times. At the end of the day we lost a lot of time when, after clipping the rear wing from the car, we had no downforce over a massive jump in SS8. We landed on the radiator then went off into a ditch and hit a lot of rocks and trees. It is a long time since I had something like that. It was amazing that the car popped back out again and onto the road and we were able to continue. I think almost the whole side was ripped off and we still continued. The guys have done a good job to get everything back together. I'm not giving up and tomorrow we'll be pushing really hard for third."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It was all going really well and we were pleased to be running in the top eight when you are up against the top WRC guys and the locals that know these stages so well. We just clipped a rock with an open wheel on the inside of a slow corner near the end of stage four and it damaged the steering. We managed to get another couple of hundred metres down the road, but it could go no further. I really didn't expect to go out on a second gear corner in Finland! It's a frustrating mistake, but we've still got a job to do, and we'll get back on it over the next couple of days."
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and fellow Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen each hold top six positions after today's pulsating opening leg of the Rally Finland. Gardemeister lies fourth in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, less than five seconds away from a podium place, while Hirvonen is sixth in a similar car after a day of remarkable action in which average speeds exceeded 125kph.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "It was an odd day. My position is good but the gap between myself and the leader is more than I wanted or expected. The tyres were good but the car slid too much this morning and I don't know why. There were a lot of loose stones on the surface and the roads were wet rather than damp. I stopped sliding this afternoon on the drier stages. The car seems better in the dry than in the wet but I don't understand why. I think tomorrow will be a better day because I know the roads well and like them. I will make the ride height lower and see what effect that has."
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "The difference in stage times between the fastest cars and myself isn't large and I feel comfortable at this speed. Some stages were soft and others were slippery, and that's where I dropped time compared with those ahead of me. I drove well in the fast parts but perhaps I wasn't as smooth as I needed to be in the slower sections. We need to find more speed tomorrow to catch the people in front of me and I think I can do that. It has been a good day, tomorrow I need to make it a perfect day."
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "It's unbelievable! I spent so much time in sixth gear, it's incredible. I overshot a junction this morning and I was too fast into some corners and as soon as you do that, it's easy to lose confidence. But I enjoyed the morning stages and learned a lot."
Marcus Gronholm - who has won his native Rally Finland in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004 - is determined to remain the master of this particular event. At the end of leg one of round 10 of the World Rally Championship, Marcus leads Finland with a slender but determined advantage from.the Citroen of Sebastien Loeb. Nonetheless, the day has been far from easy. The Peugeot team had a real scare at the end of the 33-kilometre long SS5 when Marcus radioed in to say that his co-driver Timo Rautiainen had severe pain in his back, and that he was not sure if they would be able to continue the rally. At the time he started the stage - the longest of the rally - Marcus was in the lead and attacking hard, as he had been from the start of the day. After 10 kilometres, a big jump taken at around 200kph caused a severe compression as the car landed. Timo Rautiainen felt a sharp pain in his back and was unable to continue reading the notes. One short stage remained before a service halt in Jyvaskyla, where Timo was treated by the team doctor and osteopath for bruising on his back. After the 30 minute service, Timo felt well enough to continue. Proving that the medical team had done a good job, Marcus and Timo carried on where they had left off - setting their fourth fastest time of the day!
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "It's been a very good day for us but the last few stages were difficult because I was thinking about Timo's back all the time, so I was definitely backing off over some of the more violent crests. The car and the tyres have been perfect all day and it's a nice feeling to fight for the lead again. I've always had a very good feeling for these stages and it's fun to drive them. But we are in the middle of a very tight battle and we have to keep pushing, so it's always more fun when you have done the stages and you can look back on them!"
Markko Martin/Michael Park: "I think I have felt more comfortable in the car today than I have since the start of the year. To do well in Finland mostly you need to have confidence, and I have good confidence in the car now. The new suspension set-up has helped me a lot. Tomorrow we will face a tight battle with Toni Gardemeister and Petter Solberg, and if it is as slippery as it was on many of the stages today, it could get very interesting. But I feel able to attack now, so I'm looking forward to them."
The Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team completed the opening day of Rally Finland with Janne Tuohino in 10th place and Armin Schwarz in 14th. Jani Paasonen went off the road for two minutes on SS2 trying to avoid the stricken car of Gigi Galli that was blocking the road and then had to withdraw from the leg after a wheel collapsed under the car following a heavy landing on SS5.
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "This is an event where local experience is very important. On stages that I know and feel confident on I can set quite good times but there are many that I don't know so well and there I have to be careful. We had a transmission problem on SS5 that caused the engine to stall three times in hairpins but otherwise the car has been fine."
Jani Paasonen/Jani Vainikka: "What happened on SS2 was just bad luck. Gigi's car was across the road with spectators trying to get him going again. When I tried to get past I got stuck on the rocks in the ditch. Everyone, including Gigi, tried to help but we lost two minutes and I lost concentration for a few stages. On SS5 we had a hard landing after the big jump that damaged the suspension. A rear wheel folded under the car and although we tried to reach the finish it was impossible for us to go any further."
Janne Touhino/Mikko Markkula: "This morning I tried to make a careful start because the roads were incredibly slippy. Perhaps I was too careful at times and I must push a bit harder. We were quite lucky on SS5, which was new for everyone, when we landed slightly off line after a big jump and drove for 100 metres in the ditch. Fortunately there wasn't a rock or we might not have come out again."
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crew of Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen hold seventh position at the end of the opening leg of Rally Finland, the tenth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido d'Amore - in their debut outing in Finland in a World Rally Car - went off the road in the first stage today and were forced onto the sidelines.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen:"The problem we have is that the gear ratio is too long. It affected us quite badly today as you need more power in these softer conditions. At flat out speed it just doesn't feel like it. Tomorrow's stages are faster and more flowing on a harder surface, so this will help us more than it has today. Tires have been good and I have no problems here at all. The leaderboard seems to have been quite consistent today, but we have to keep pushing to protect our position."
Gigi Galli/Guido D'Amore: "It was my fault, a stupid mistake. On a long left corner, which was a bit more slippery than the previous corners, the car went too sideways and I couldn't get it back. A wheel went off the road and that was that. There were about 20 spectators that tried to get us back on the road, but with the front left wheel off it was difficult and we were forced to park up in a safe place. As we were doing this, Jani Paasonen (Skoda) was trying to pass us and he went a little off the road too and for that I am sorry."