After another incident-filled day on the gravel roads of Rally Finland, Petter Solberg moved up the leaderboard to hold fourth place overnight. Solberg's pace increased steadily throughout the Leg, and he set a string of increasingly competitive...
After another incident-filled day on the gravel roads of Rally Finland, Petter Solberg moved up the leaderboard to hold fourth place overnight. Solberg's pace increased steadily throughout the Leg, and he set a string of increasingly competitive times before a split brake pipe forced him to ease off on two stages in the afternoon. Petter will start tomorrow's final day of competition 39sec behind Markko Martin's third place. Chris Atkinson impressed many with his pace on today's notoriously tricky stages. On his WRC class debut in Finland, the youngster traded times with far more experienced drivers and, on SS13, he set the third fastest time. Chris's day was cut short when he went off the road on the penultimate test of the day, but he hopes to re-join the event tomorrow as a Superally entrant.
SS10: 0706 Vaheri (19.84km)
In contrast to the gloomy weather seen at the start of the rally, crews left the Jyväskylä service area in dry and sunny conditions at the beginning of day two. The road surface was damp with early morning dew as the first cars tackled the stage with the top 15 driving in reverse order. Running 14th on the road, Sebastien Loeb was quickest, with Marcus Gronholm second and Toni Gardemeister third. Citroen privateer Manfred Stohl retired with suspension damage when his Xsara landed awkwardly after a jump and went off the road. Kristian Sohlberg was another privateer in trouble, the Finn's Impreza WRC ended up on its roof after an accident 1km from the finish line. Francois Duval lost around 10sec when he overshot a junction. After a miraculous repair job by SWRT technicians during the 45-minute service at the end of Leg one, Petter Solberg's badly damaged car looked perfect as it started Leg two. On the stage, however, Petter reported that the car oversteered too much and he dropped 20sec to the leaders. Re-starting under the Superally regulations, Chris Atkinson had a better time in his Impreza WRC2005. Despite losing a few seconds when he over-shot a junction and stalled his engine, he still set the sixth fastest time. Earlier in the day, the Peugeot team withdrew Sebastien Lindholm's car after doctors said his co-driver, Tomi Tuominen, wasn't well enough to continue. Tuominen suffered back injuries after a heavy landing on SS5.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 9:45.6
SS11: 0820 Ouninpohja Länsi 1 (13.98km)
Regarded as one of the most demanding and difficult stages in the WRC, Ouninpohja was run in its 33km original and classic form for the last time in 2004. On that occasion Petter Solberg set a new stage record, smashing the previous one by six seconds. But as average speeds approached 130kph, organisers acted to slow things down a little and for 2005 the stage was shortened and split in two. Featuring blind crests, stomach-churning jumps, hidden corners and undulating gravel roads, the first section remained a stern test for drivers and co-drivers. With things still tight at the top of the leaderboard, Marcus Gronholm attacked hard to take the stage win and claw back all of the 3.5sec he had lost to Loeb on the previous test. The relatively inexperienced Gigi Galli brought his Mitsubishi Lancer across the line in a remarkable second place, while Ford's Mikko Hirvonen was third. Petter Solberg made a few adjustments to his car's suspension geometry and damper settings before the stage and these proved beneficial to its handling, he was joint-fourth. Driving a Ford Focus, Petter's brother Henning stalled on the start line and lost a minute before he could get the engine going again.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 6:35.1
SS12: 0843 Ouninpohja Itä 1 (16.55km)
The second section of 'old' Ouninpohja also remained a fearsome challenge, with a narrow, high-speed road and giant jumps that required absolute commitment and perfectly accurate pace notes. Gigi Galli's impressive performance stopped abruptly when his car shot off the road and into a large tree. His Lancer collected damage to its front-right corner and was too badly damaged to continue. Ford's Roman Kresta lost around 9min when his car slid off the road and into a muddy ditch. Spectators eventually helped the car back onto the stage, but the incident dropped him from 26th to 37th position. Marcus Gronholm was the stage winner, followed by Petter Solberg who shared the second fastest time with Markko Martin. On his first attempt at the Ouninpohja route in a WRC class Impreza, Chris Atkinson was fifth fastest - quicker than Finnish experts Gardemeister, Hirvonen and even Jyväskylä resident, Harri Rovanpera. After the finish, crews returned to Jyväskylä for a 30-minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 7:54.5
SS13: 1144 Urria (10.00km)
The Urria stage is well known for a massive jump 5km from the start line, and a stretch with five smaller jumps in quick succession later in the test. Revitalised after the trip to the service area, Marcus Gronholm went quickest, to clinch his third stage win of the day, with Markko Martin second and Chris Atkinson third - his best ever result in Finland. Petter Solberg was fourth. On the overall table, Gronholm extended his lead over second placed Sebastien Loeb to 19sec, while Markko Martin was 47sec further back in third.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 4:39.6
SS14: 1307 Ouninpohja Länsi 2 (13.98km)
In perfect dry and bright conditions, crews tackled the first repeated Ouninpohja stage. With his sights set on a fifth victory on his home rally, Marcus Gronholm was the pace-setter once again with Loeb 2.5sec behind and Markko Martin third. Since his win on SS11, Gronholm had gradually extended his lead and, after SS14, he was 21sec ahead of Loeb. Chris Atkinson recorded another top five time, but there were problems for Petter when one of his car's rear brake lines split midway through the test. Solberg was able to continue, but with reduced rear braking power he dropped 19sec to the leaders.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 6:28.5
SS15: 1330 Ouninpohja Itä 2 (16.55km)
Gronholm extended his lead by another 2.5sec on the final repeated stage of the day. The Finn powered through the 16km section to set the fastest time, with the usual suspects, Sebastien Loeb and Markko Martin, third and fourth. Subaru's Chris Atkinson was an excellent fourth. Ouninpohja Ita proved problematic once again for Roman Kresta, but this time his problems were mechanical, rather than driver related. A hydraulic fault with his Focus WRC meant he drove much of the stage without power steering and using the back-up manual gear change. Before the stage Petter Solberg sealed off the damaged section of brake line and completed the test with working brakes on only three wheels. He was sixth fastest. After the finish, crews returned to Jyväskylä for a 30-minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 7:45.9
SS16: 1648 Moksi-Leustu (40.96km)
Measuring 41km, the stage from Moksi was the longest of the event and included a complex variety of conditions including wide, narrow, technical and flat-out sections. Numerous blind crests and jumps meant it was probably the busiest stage for co-drivers too. Marcus Gronholm, Sebastien Loeb and Markko Martin emerged unscathed to set the three fastest times (Marcus with a new stage record) but many competitors weren't so lucky. Armin Schwarz was the first to hit trouble when his Skoda Fabia developed a gear-shift fault. Armin was able to switch to a manual back-up, but the slower system cost him around 1min. Next, Toni Gardemeister, who had been in fourth place, dropped almost 2min when his Ford's front-left tyre punctured at 130kph, 13km before the end of the test. Toni completed the stage without replacing the damaged tyre, which broke up and disintegrated completely before the finish line. The incident cost him three places and dropped him to seventh overall. Toni's team-mate Roman Kresta continued to have power steering problems with his Focus and, aware that Chris Atkinson was likely to catch up and want to overtake, he stopped at the side of the road to let him past. Unfortunately for both drivers, Chris had problems of his own to contend with and didn't make it as far as Kresta. Instead, his car left the road at a fourth-gear corner 21km from the start and rolled into a ditch. A group of spectators pushed the car back onto its wheels, but the damage prevented the Australian from continuing any further. The final casualty was Ford privateer Anthony Warmbold, who crashed out from 16th place. The German youngster approach a fourth-gear corner too quickly and drove off the road into a ditch.
Fastest Stage Time: Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) 20:16.5
SS17: 1804 Himos (12.90km)
The final stage of the day brought no change to the overall top 10, but Sebastien Loeb had a scare when he hit a rock near the start, which punctured his Xsara's front-left tyre. The flailing tyre caused considerable damage, tearing off the front wing and damaging the bumper, but the Frenchman pushed on regardless and crossed the line with the loss of around 35sec. Ahead of the final day of competition, Gronholm's lead stood at a relatively comfortable 1min 7sec. Toni Gardemeister set the quickest time through the stage, with Gronholm second and Mikko Hirvonen third. Petter Solberg was fifth.
Fastest Stage Time: Gardemeister (Ford) 6:59.3
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth
On the surface of it, a frustrating day. Petter has spent some time finding a set-up that suited him, giving him that extra confidence to attack. He was then hampered by a fractured brake pipe on the second loop of today's stages. Chris was setting some very encouraging stage times, running as high as third which is impressive for someone with so little experience. He then had a typically Finnish accident rolling the car on the rally's longest test. We'll have to see whether we can get him back going again for tomorrow, as there is valuable experience to be had and for Petter we'll keep pushing all the way to the end.
It was good to see the car look like new again after all the work the team did last night. But today was so difficult as we've been looking for the right set up for the conditions. Sometimes that's just how it is. Just before the long stage today we tried some damper changes to get more traction, but I found that it made the car slide so much and we lost a lot of grip. Then, on the last stage, we tried some new changes and that was so much better. I think we'll keep the same setting for tomorrow. We'll keep trying with the four stages left, but it's a short day and the aim is to keep winning the fight for fourth.
Today was one of the best days rallying I can remember. To come to Finland and consistently match times with the top drivers was just fantastic. Everything has been working so well all day, the car, the tyres and overall package. It was a shame such a small mistake cut short a great day, but we just got caught out when we got stuck in a rut coming out of a corner and then hit a bump with the car tipping over into a ditch just off the road on the second last stage. To be fast in the long term we need to be quick and you have to risk the odd mistake. The crowd got us back on the road after a few minutes, but we didn't want to press on in case we damaged the engine. Hopefully we'll be back out with the car again tomorrow.
News From Pirelli
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director: "The 'K' tyres worked well once more today, proving that they have the pace to be in front. Our aim is to give Petter the best opportunity to make the most of them on the final Leg tomorrow."