WRC

Rally Finland: Subaru leg one summary

After a promising start on today's first Leg of Rally Finland, there was disappointment for the Subaru team when both Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen retired from the event. Solberg became the first casualty of the unforgiving high-speed stages...

After a promising start on today's first Leg of Rally Finland, there was disappointment for the Subaru team when both Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen retired from the event. Solberg became the first casualty of the unforgiving high-speed stages when his car left the road and sustained suspension damage after a collision with a rock. Mikko Hirvonen's encouraging performance on his home event came to an abrupt end when he too slid wide on a corner on the last stage of the day.

Stage Summaries

SS1: 0834 Kuohu 1 (7.76km)

Underlining their historical dominance of their home event, Finnish drivers set the early pace and charged through the first stage of the day to take the top seven times. Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera was quickest, with compatriot Sebastian Lindholm second and three times rally Finland winner, Marcus Gronholm third. Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen had an excellent start and was fifth fastest, while his team-mate Petter Solberg was eleventh after a small spin at the second corner. Although the Norwegian had been suffering with flu-like symptoms for the past two days, he reported he was feeling better after a good night's sleep. Used as the shakedown road in 1999 and 2000, the stage took crews through a fast opening section, before running downhill onto a narrow forest road. There were no jumps included in the test's 7km, which Phil Mills described as 'a good warm up'. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS2.
Fastest Stage Time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 3:41.6

SS2: 0857 Parkkola 1 (14.95km)

Once again Rovanpera was the pacesetter and the Jyvaskyla resident completed the 15km, loose gravel stage 1.3 seconds faster than his closest rival Sebastien Lindholm. Contesting the event as Peugeot's number three driver, Lindholm's 307WRC was the only works car to be equipped with a new five-speed gearbox. The cars of his team-mates Rovanpera and Gronholm were fitted with the regular four-speed unit. In the Subaru camp, Petter Solberg was back on the pace and was third fastest, despite running second on the loose gravel road that was clearing for those further down the order, while team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was seventh. At the finish, the duo held exactly the same overall time and lay in joint sixth. Mitsubishi driver Gilles Panizzi struggled with the handling and stability of his Lancer and managed only sixteenth fastest, while Gronholm overshot a junction and had to reverse to re-join the road. He was tenth fastest. The stage's infamous sixth-gear jump 300 metres from the start caused no problems for the leading crews and, after the finish, they moved directly to the start of SS3.
Fastest Stage Time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 7:26.8

SS3: 0938 Mokkipera 1 (13.96km)

Mökkiperä has a reputation for being difficult. Six tricky jumps lie in quick succession in the first 1.5km, followed by a demanding rocky section that caught out both Francois Duval and Jussi Valimaki in 2003. This year there were no leading retirements and it was local hero Harri Rovanpera who once again set the fastest time. At an average speed of 122.22kph, the Finn took his third stage win of the day, while Subaru's Solberg was second quickest and Gronholm third. Finnish experts Janne Tuohino and Lindholm took the next two best times, followed by last year's winner Markko Martin who rounded off the top six. Citroen drivers Carlos Sainz and Sebastien Loeb remained off the pace and finished eighth and twelfth fastest respectively. After the finish, crews returned to Jyvaskyla for the first service of the day.
Fastest Stage Time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 6:51.2

SS4: 1244 Lankamaa (24.86km)

Fast and furious, Lankamaa demands flat out, committed driving from the outset. Over the years its blend of deceptive crests and sixth gear straights has bought Rally Finland to a premature end for many drivers. This year it brought a disappointing conclusion to the event for Subaru's Petter Solberg. The Norwegian's Impreza drifted wide on a left-hand corner 2km from the start line and slid off the road into a ditch. Although the impact was slight and external damage was minor, the front left-hand suspension struck a rock hidden in the grass and Petter was unable to continue. It was the flying Finns who once again dominated the leaderboard. Capitalising on their local knowledge Gronholm was fastest through the 24km test, with Rovanpera second and Lindholm third. Mikko Hirvonen was fifth fastest. Having admitted in the preceding service that he was struggling to find confidence after his 170kph crash in the previous round in Argentina, Ford's Markko Martin was seventh fastest. Skoda driver Armin Schwarz stalled his Fabia on the start line and was sixteenth. After the finish, crews moved straight to the start of SS5.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 12:04.1

SS5: 1332 Laukaa (11.82km)

As the Peugeot drivers continued to trade stage wins, this time it was Rovanpera who was quickest for the fourth time on this event. Gronholm was second fastest and Martin third. Although 'sweeping' of the loose gravel stages was not so apparent for the front-runners through this repeated group of stages due to the softer, sandier base, first-on-the-road Sebastien Loeb remained off the pace. He ended the stage ninth fastest and in tenth position overall. After completing the test's mixture of narrow, tricky sections, jumps and flat out straights, crews moved directly to the start of SS6.
Fastest Stage Time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 5:44.3

SS6: 1427 Ruuhimaki (7.57km)

The short Ruuhimaki test included some of the biggest jumps in the entire World Rally Championship and the road was lined by thousands of fans who had turned out in the warm Finnish sunshine to watch their favourite rally cars soar through the air. Rovanpera's rally took a dramatic turn for the worse when he rolled his Peugeot on a high-speed corner 5km from the start and came to rest 15 metres from the road. He was able to rejoin the road, but dropped 1 minute 52 seconds to the leaders and fell from the top spot to thirteenth overall. He later retired in service due to the extensive damage that his 307 had sustained. His lead was snatched by team-mate Gronholm who collected his second win of the day. An improving Martin was second fastest in his Focus, while Finnish team-mate Tuohino was third. Gilles Panizzi continued to complain of a lack of stability in his Lancer and completed the test fifteenth fastest. After the finish, crews returned to Jyvaskyla for the second service of the day.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 3:57.1

SS7: 1640 Kuohu 2 (7.76km)

Flying Finn Marcus Gronholm scored another win on the repeated Kuohu test to shave 2.2 seconds off Rovanpera's previous time and extend his overall lead to 8.6 seconds. Markko Martin was second fastest, while team-mate Francois Duval finished third. Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen was also on the pace and expertly negotiated the forest roads fourth quickest to move up to fifth overall. Competing for the first time in a Skoda Fabia WRC, Jani Paasonen was eighth fastest, ahead of regular Skoda drivers Gardemeister and Schwarz who were ninth and fifteenth fastest respectively. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS8.


Fastest Stage Time:Gronholm (Peugeot) 3:39.4

SS8: 1703 Parkkola 2 (14.95km)

Pedal to the floor, Marcus Gronholm kept the speed up to take his third stage win in a row on the second pass through the demanding Parkkola test. 2003 Rally Finland winner Martin was second fastest, while Sebastien Loeb began to find the form that's made him current World Rally Championship leader and finished third. No such luck for team-mate and Rally Argentina winner Carlos Sainz. Still unhappy with the set-up of his Xsara, the Spaniard managed only seventh fastest and crossed the finish 8.5 seconds slower than the leader. As conditions remained warm and sunny, hundreds of fans gathered round the huge jump located 300 metres from the start and over the sequence of smaller jumps just before the finish line. There was no change to the overall top ten and, after the finish, crews moved directly to the start of SS9.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 7:20.8

SS9: 1744 Mokkipera 2 (13.96km)

Although only 14km long, the repeated Mökkiperä demanded the ultimate in commitment and precision driving. Gronholm was once again fastest and charged over the stage's succession of jumps, through its tricky rocky section and flat out stretches to set an average speed of 123.3kph and take his fifth win of the day. Martin was second fastest, but it wasn't enough to snatch overall third from team-mate Tuohino and at the finish 1.2 seconds remained between the pair. Sainz was fifth fastest, his best finish of the day, while Loeb was sixth. After the finish, crews travelled 43.68km to the start of the Leg's final stage, the Killeri Super Special.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 6:47.6

SS10: 1926 SSS Killeri 1 (2.06km)

It may only have been 2.6km in length, but the Super Special bought a dramatic close to Leg one. The most high profile casualty was Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn slid wide on a corner, hit the metal barrier in his Impreza WRC2004 and collected extensive damage to its front suspension and radiator. He was unable to continue and retired on the spot. He had been fifth overall. Markko Martin ended the day with a stage win to snatch overall third from team-mate Tuohino, while Sainz found the pace that had been lacking throughout the day to finish second fastest and move up from overall seventh to fifth. Gronholm was fifth fastest and ended the day as the overnight leader, 18.3 seconds ahead of Lindholm.
Fastest Stage Time: Martin (Ford) 1:18.7

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg

It's a very big disappointment. I really wanted to get a good points finish here, and to retire on the first day is so frustrating let me tell you. The accident itself didn't seem too bad. I lost my concentration just for one small moment and we went wide. The car didn't spin but we dropped off the road and into the ditch. As we were coming to a stop I was sure we would be back on the road in no time at all, it certainly wasn't a big accident, but then we hit that one rock in the grass and that was that. The guys will get things fixed today and I'm going to start the rally again tomorrow, it's all good experience. As for the result, well that's just too bad. The thing to do now is to put it behind us, keep positive and move on.

Mikko Hirvonen

I still can't quite believe what's happened. Things seemed to be going well, but on the Super Special stage, I made a mistake on the line into a tight, right-hand corner. I tried to correct it, but it was so slippery I got caught out and drove straight into a metal barrier. That broke one side of the front suspension, I tried to continue, but the car immediately swerved to the other barrier which broke the other side and that was it. Retiring from a rally is bad enough, but to do it on a Super Special stage makes the whole thing much worse. Of course you have to drive fast all the time during a rally, but to make such a mistake in front of crowds including your family and friends is a pretty bad feeling. Of course I really hope to be able to restart, we'll just have to see what the guys can do to the car when it comes back.

Team Principal, David Lapworth

We started the day encouraged by Petter's pace. He began confidently and felt he was in a very strong position after the first couple of stages. Perhaps that made it even more frustrating when things took a turn for the worse. We all share Petter's disappointment about what happened. Like all World Champions he's a highly motivated individual and as a close team we're with him all the way, through the highs and the lows. But mistakes happen, and everyone here understands that we have to deal with it and move on. In some respects it makes it easier for us, we have no option now than to push for victory on all the remaining events. Mikko's day also started well but regrettably ended in similar circumstances. He'd set some encouraging times earlier in the day and it's a shame that his accident occurred on such a relatively straightforward stage. Until the car is recovered and brought back to service we wont be able to judge whether or not he will be able to carry on tomorrow.

-subaru-

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About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team