Subaru's Petter Solberg dominated the action on today's first Leg of Rally Japan and holds the overnight lead by a margin of 22 seconds. Solberg, who won the rally in 2004, enjoyed a trouble free run in his Impreza WRC2005 and set the quickest...
Subaru's Petter Solberg dominated the action on today's first Leg of Rally Japan and holds the overnight lead by a margin of 22 seconds. Solberg, who won the rally in 2004, enjoyed a trouble free run in his Impreza WRC2005 and set the quickest time on three of the day's nine stages. Remarkably, Petter's closest competition on the first three stages was his young team-mate Chris Atkinson in the second works Impreza. Atkinson who has driven this rally twice before, but never in a four-wheel drive car, took two stage wins and even wrestled the lead of the rally from Solberg after SS3.
SS1 0733hrs Pawse Kamuy 1 (9.05km)
The only Asian round of the FIA World Rally Championship kicked
off at the wide, coarse gravel Pawse Kamuy stage just under 85km north
of the rally's host town Obihiro. The first drivers through the short
speed test reported very loose gravel, but the road cleaned to a harder
base as more cars passed through. Running 13th on the road, Chris
Atkinson, a graduate of the Asia-Pacific championship, used his
knowledge of the event to set the fastest time through the speed test,
just over one second quicker than team mate Petter Solberg as the duo
took the top two places at Subaru's home event. Peugeot's Marcus
Gronholm was third fastest with Mikko Hirvonen, on his Skoda team debut,
fourth. Citroen pilot Sebastien Loeb, chasing his second drivers'
championship title, was 12th quickest.
Fastest Stage Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 4:42.1
SS2 0819hrs Rikubetsu 1 (2.73km)
The 2.73km Rikubetsu, nicknamed 'Japan's mini Superspecial', was
based around a ski centre 30km from the previous stage. Starting with a
watersplash and some tricky and tight hairpin bends, the narrow, loose
gravel road then passed onto a rally cross circuit before a jump over
the flying finish. Loeb and Solberg stopped the clocks with identical
times, one second faster than third-quickest Duval. After setting the
fastest time in stage one Atkinson was fifth, just over a second behind
Solberg. The Norwegian's time moved him up to first overall while Loeb
moved up four places to eighth.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) / Solberg (Subaru) 2:08.1
SS3 0852hrs Kunneywa-Niueo 1 (50.06km)
The longest stage of the 2005 WRC season was a tough challenge
for crews, with some very fast sections and open, flowing hairpin
corners. The hard compacted base was covered with lots of loose gravel,
and tyre wear at the end of the stage was high for many crews. Subaru's
Chris Atkinson took his second stage win of the event to retake the
overall lead from Solberg, the first time he has ever led a WRC event.
Loeb and Gronholm set identical times and Loeb continued to move up the
overall leaderboard to fourth. Harri Rovanpera and Francois Duval were
fifth and sixth quickest and both leapfrogged ahead of Mikko Hirvonen
who dropped to seventh overall after his Fabia's hydraulic system was
damaged by a rock in the middle of the road. Ford's Toni Gardemeister
reported that he was unhappy with his pace notes and dropped more than
one minute through the stage.
Fastest Stage Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 28:02.8
SS4 0959hrs Sipirkakim 1 (18.74km)
Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson continued to trade the lead of
the rally as the Norwegian took his second stage win of the day to again
move ahead of Atkinson on the overall leaderboard. The Australian had a
cautious run through the heavily-rutted downhill stage to record the
sixth-fastest time, while Gronholm was second quickest to narrowly
increase the gap back to Loeb in fourth overall. Skoda's Hirvonen
dropped almost forty seconds to Solberg after breaking the hydraulic
system during SS3 and reverting to the manual gearbox. By the end of the
stage the Finn had fallen back to ninth overall behind Gigi Galli and
Antony Warmbold. Peugeot's substitute for Markko Martin, Daniel
Carlsson, also fell down the overall order to tenth from ninth after
developing a transmission problem. After the finish crews returned to
the central service area at Kita Aikoku for a 30 minute halt.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 10:14.4
SS5 1412hrs Pawse Kamuy 2 (9.05km)
Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli took his first win of the day on the
first stage after service. The repeated section brought quicker times
than in the morning, even though most drivers reported that the road had
become deeply rutted after the passage of so many cars. Daniel Carlsson,
in his first WRC event for Peugeot since the Swedish Rally in February,
finished fourth quickest ahead of a resurgent Gardemeister, while
Subaru's Chris Atkinson kept second place overall with sixth fastest
Fastest Stage Time: Galli (Mitsubishi) 4:38.7
SS6 1458hrs Rikubetsu 2 (2.73km)
Subaru's Petter Solberg extended his lead over team mate Chris
Atkinson with the third-quickest time through the 2.73km speed test near
the town of Rikubetsu. Marcus Gronholm edged closer to Atkinson with his
first stage win of the day, moving to just over one second away from the
Australian. Gigi Galli continued his strong afternoon performance in
fourth as he chased Francois Duval for sixth overall. At the end of SS6
Mitsubishi's Italian driver lay just over three seconds behind the
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 2:06.7
SS7 1531hrs Kunneywa-Niueo 2 (50.06km)
Sebastien Loeb took his first outright stage win of the day
through the repeat of the mammoth 50km Kunneywa test. The Frenchman, who
needs only a podium finish in Japan to clinch his second FIA drivers'
title, moved into third place ahead of Marcus Gronholm. Petter Solberg
continued to lead the rally in his Subaru Impreza WRC2005, despite
picking up a puncture in the stage, but Atkinson dropped back to fourth
overall behind Loeb and Gronholm after passing through the stage over
40sec slower than Loeb. Some crews encountered difficulties, with
Skoda's Mikko Hirvonen rolling near the end of the stage, while
privateer Antony Warmbold, who had been the leading Ford, also came to a
halt midway through the stage as he stopped to check out a strange noise
from the car. When no major problems could be detected, the German
rejoined the road to finish over three minutes slower than Loeb.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 27:10.0
SS8 1638hrs Sipirkakim 2 (18.74km)
In the final stage of the Leg before the Superspecial, Petter
Solberg took his third win of the day to extend his lead over Loeb to
more than 20secs. Gronholm continued his steady run with the third
fastest time behind Loeb, ahead of fourth-quickest Duval. Czech Roman
Kresta achieved his best stage finish of the day in fifth, while team
mate Gardemeister moved ahead of Carlsson to ninth overall. Chris
Atkinson passed the finish with the ninth quickest time, but kept fourth
in the standings with a twenty second gap back to Rovanpera. Like many
crews on SS8, Atkinson reported visibility problems due to patches of
thick fog. Even though night was falling as he negotiated the route, the
wall of fog illuminated by his headlights was so bad that Chris tackled
much of the stage with the lights switched off.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 10:18.4
SS9 1842hrs Satsunai 1 (2.10km)
The Superspecial was exceptionally popular with spectators in
2004 and more than 20,000 people crowded into the floodlit arena on the
outskirts of Obihiro this year to see the cars going head-to-head over
the jump and through the spectacular watersplash. Despite running with
three punctured tyres Petter Solberg was joint fifth quickest with
Gilles Panizzi and retained the lead of the rally by almost 23secs from
Loeb. Gronholm's steady performance throughout the day kept him third
overall, eleven seconds behind Loeb, but over a minute ahead of Atkinson
in his Subaru Impreza WRC2005 in fourth.
Fastest Stage Time: Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) 1:38.2
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth
An excellent start to the rally. Both drivers have driven faultlessly and are ideally placed. Obviously it's great to see Petter leading again in Japan but Chris's performance on the first couple of stages was equally satisfying. The cars have run well and the tyres have been good, we couldn't really have asked for a better start to the event. Tomorrow could be a tricky day, the forecast is for unpredictable weather but in this mood Petter should take it in his stride.
I'm very happy to be back fighting for stage wins again! To be honest the day has gone better than even I expected, we had a few punctures in the afternoon but apart from that it has been just perfect. I love driving and when the package works as well as it has done today then there's no better feeling. Of course there's a long way still to go but I feel positive after what we've achieved today and everyone in the team is hungry to succeed.
The day started out very well and to lead a round of the WRC was something special but the aim this weekend is to get experience and a solid result without taking too many risks. We had a bit of bad luck this afternoon being caught in the dust behind Anthony Warmbold who had some problems in the long stage and then on the final stage we had to deal with some very foggy conditions on a road surface that I would say was one of the worst I have ever driven on. I think we could have chosen a slightly harder tyre compound for this afternoon's stages but overall it has been a very pleasing day and when you look at the fact that the only guys ahead of us are world champions we have to be happy. The aim now is to continue this pace for the remainder of the rally and gain a good result for the team.
News From Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
It's been a fantastic performance from Petter and Chris, proving the strength of the latest evolution of our KP tyres. We have worked hard to make a step forward, producing some new compounds, and these seem to be well-suited to both the conditions here in Japan and to the Subaru Impreza.
Subaru pilot Chris Atkinson is the most experienced works' team driver in this event, having competed in the rally for the previous two years when he contested the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship in a Super 1600 specification car. Chris' co-driver Glenn Macneall is also an old-hand here - this will be his fourth time in Rally Japan. Chris and Glenn put their extensive combined knowledge to excellent use today and they were quickest on the first run through the mammoth 50.6km Kunneywa-Niueo test, the longest stage of the entire 2005 FIA World Rally Championship.
We caught up with Glenn for the inside line on one of the WRC's biggest challenges:
The Kunneywa-Niueo stage is a massive 50.6km long - the longest of the year. The second longest stage took place in March in Mexico; Alfaro-El Establo at 44.39km
The stage is basically two 2004 stages with the liaisons sections joined together. Used twice, the stage makes up nearly one third of the entire event distance
The road was damaged by a typhoon two months ago. To repair the road organisers re-surfaced it with a different type of gravel which has changed the character of the surface considerably
It is a very loose stage for the most part, though it does become very earthy about 10km from the end as cars run next to a river. This can make it very slippery, but it gets faster as more cars clean the road
About 28km from the start, where the second stage used to begin, the road becomes narrower and a bit more tricky and the speeds drop as a result. There's also an elevation change as cars move uphill
The principal impression of this stage is that it's extremely quick. Even though it takes nearly half an hour to negotiate, it's actually very fast in places, especially the first 19km, where the finish was last year, with speeds ranging from 106 to 110km/h