After an encouraging first day of Rally Finland for the Subaru team, Petter Solberg holds fourth place overall, but remains less than ten seconds behind third place with two days of competition still to go. Highlighting the performance ...
After an encouraging first day of Rally Finland for the Subaru team, Petter Solberg holds fourth place overall, but remains less than ten seconds behind third place with two days of competition still to go.
Highlighting the performance improvements already made to the Subaru Impreza WRC2006, Solberg's car ran faultlessly throughout the Leg and enabled him to set a string of top three times.
Chris Atkinson also had a positive day and was holding fifth place overall before an overheating problem on the last loop of stages dropped him to sixth.
SS1: 2000hrs, Thurs 17 Aug, Killeri 1 (2.06km)
Leg one of Rally Finland got underway on Thursday night when crews tackled the spectator-friendly Superspecial stage at Killeri, 13km from Jyvaskyla. Constructed on a loose surface oval track, more typically used for the sport of horse-trotting, the circuit extended into the car parks outside the complex to make a twisty and challenging 2.06km loop. Although there had been rain showers during the day, the sun shone for the thousands of fans who flocked to the track to watch the head-to-head racing. Over such a short distance the times of the top drivers were extremely close and the top five were separated by less that one second.
Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson each won their pairings and finished second and sixth respectively. The stage winner was Sebastien Loeb who edged 0.2 sec ahead of Solberg to claim the overnight lead.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 1:21.4
SS2: 0921hrs, Fri 18 Aug, Lankamaa (24.98km)
Friday, 0800hrs and light rain was falling when crews left Jyvaskyla to begin the second section of Leg one.
By 0921hrs the rain was falling heavily as the first car started the first proper stage of the rally, the 24km section from the town of Lankamaa.
Crews splashed their way through the wet stage and reported that the rain had made it far more slippery and muddy than when they drove it on the recce.
Marcus Gronholm was the early pace-setter, recording the fastest time - 8.5sec ahead of his Ford team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen, who was next quickest.
Petter Solberg was third, with Sebastien Loeb fourth and Chris Atkinson rounding off the top five performers.
Matthew Wilson lost more than three minute to the leaders when he got a puncture and stopped to change the wheel.
Problems too for local driver Janne Tuohino -- a broken intercom meant he heard no pace notes for the first 10km.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 11:59.7
SS3: 1009hrs Laukaa (11.82km)
The rain continued to fall but despite the slippery conditions, standing water and mud, the stage proved drama-free for all of the leading competitors.
Times were extremely close -- just 11 seconds separated the top 10 -- and Gronholm's stage winning performance was only 0.1sec quicker than that of Hirvonen, who was second.
In a mirror of the previous stage, Solberg, Loeb and Atkinson completed the top five places.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 5:40.8
SS4: 1104hrs Ruuhimaki (7.57km)
The final stage before the midday 30-minute service was one of the
shortest of the rally and took the fastest three drivers less than four
minutes to complete.
Gronholm made it three wins from three stages, while Loeb, aiming for a
record 27th WRC win, was next quickest, 0.9sec behind.
The Subaru duo of Solberg and Atkinson were third and sixth and continued to show the improved competitiveness of their cars on gravel.
Mikko Hirvonen was fourth fastest, despite a close call when he went
wide at a corner and almost slid into a ditch.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 3:57.2
SS5: 1308hrs Vellipohja 1 (36.39km)
After service, crews drove 31km south west of Jyvaskyla to the forest roads near Korpilahti.
In its current format, the Vellipohja stage was tackled for the first time last year.
On that attempt, it gained notoriety for its deceptive jumps that caught out several leading competitors, launching cars metres into the air and causing painful landings for drivers and co-drivers.
This time around crews were better prepared for the hazardous ‘yumps' and SS5 was less problematic.
Compared to the morning, weather conditions had improved and, although there were some rain showers, the road surface was generally drier.
Loeb ended Gronholm's run of stage wins by going quickest and moving ahead of Hirvonen and Petter Solberg into second place on the leaderboard.
Xavier Pons and Gigi Galli both lost time with spins, while a broken intercom in Manfred Stohl's Peugeot meant he could not hear his co-driver.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 17:51.9
SS6: 1417hrs Mokkipera 1 (12.61km)
Before another visit to the service area, crews tackled the Mokkipera stage, once famous for its sequence of six massive jumps near the start.
Unfortunately, after overcrowding problems at this popular spectator spot in 2005, organisers cut out the section for 2006 and the stage was shortened by 1.5km.
Loeb secured his second stage win of the day, but his winning margin of 1.1sec over Gronholm meant the Finn's overall lead still stood at 13 seconds.
Austrian Manfred Stohl hit more problems when his car left the road and collected bodywork damage.
Stohl managed to get going again and completed the stage but the incident cost him more than five minutes to the leaders.
Petter Solberg lost some time as he caught Stohl's stricken car mid stage but he still managed to finish third-fastest.
Problems too for Finnish driver Kristian Sohlberg when he retired from the Leg with an engine problem.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 6:11.2
SS7: 1636hrs Vellipohja 1 (36.39km)
Revitalised after the service halt, crews made their way back into the countryside for the final group of three stages -- each a repeat of one from earlier in the Leg.
In comparatively dry conditions, Gronholm was back on the attack to take the stage win and pull four more seconds ahead of Loeb.
The Frenchman was second quickest, followed by Hirvonen and Petter Solberg.
A notable absentee from the top-five stage sheet was Atkinson who dropped 56 seconds to the leaders when his car's engine started to overheat.
Mud and gravel picked up in a very rutted section had coated his car's radiator and the engine's control systems automatically cut power to keep the temperature under control.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 18:05.8
SS8: 1745hrs Mokkipera 2 (12.61km)
The final forest stage of the day brought more sudden downpours of rain, which affected some competitors more than others.
Running at the head of the field, Sebastien Loeb was one of the lucky ones who managed to avoid the worst of the weather and the Frenchman set the quickest time.
Other drivers reported torrential rain and a road surface that quickly became muddy and extremely slippery.
Mikko Hirvonen was one of those caught up in the rain, this, and a stall on the line caused him to cross the finish line 17.5 seconds slower than Loeb.
Petter Solberg set the fifth-fastest time, while his older brother Henning was third in his Peugeot 307, his best stage result of the Leg so far.
Sweden's Daniel Carlsson became only the second WRC retirement of the day when he went off the road and damaged his Mitsubishi.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 6:20.1
SS9: 2000hrs Killeri 2 (2.06km)
Leg one ended with a return trip to the Superspecial stage at the Killeri horse-trotting track.
As before, crews tackled the 2km loop in pairs in front of thousands of enthusiastic spectators.
Although the road was wet and slippery the rain held off long enough for the crowd to see Gronholm take the stage win, with Loeb second and Sordo third.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 1:21.6
Subaru World Rally Team Sporting Director, Luis Moya:
Overall, the team is pleased with the improved performance of the car compared to the earlier part of the season. Petter lost some time to the weather conditions while Chris has driven very well and was unfortunate to drop time with an intermittent overheating problem caused by a partially blocked radiator. We have proven that our new development direction is correct, but clearly have to do more to be in a position to push for wins.
Today has mainly been very good. I feel the car has improved very much particularly when jumping and in the rougher parts of the stages. We've been very unlucky with the weather and then losing time stuck behind Manfred Stohl. For tomorrow we're going to keep pushing as we want to get up onto the podium.
I'm pretty satisfied with how we drove today. From the start we targeted a top six position and despite the tricky conditions and the time we lost on the last stages we are there. I'm sure that we can fix the overheating and tomorrow we look forward to getting back out there and setting more good times.
News from Pirelli
Mario Isola, Pirelli Competizioni Rally Manager
We are reasonably happy with today's result of leg 1. Like in Germany the weather conditions are quite changeable and it's not easy to make the right choice of tyres. Anyway I think that the performance and consistency showed today are good, Petter can fight for the podium and we have to be concentrated until the end of this long and difficult rally. Chris is also doing very good stage times and the 6th position of today is an encouraging result. Looking at the other categories it's very exciting the battle between Anton Alen and Patrik Flodin, both on Subaru/Pirelli cars, divided by 0.1 seconds after 8 stages and more than 50 kms.