Rally Mexico: Subaru leg one summary

Marking an impressive debut for the new Subaru Impreza WRC2005, Subaru's Petter Solberg leads the Corona Rally Mexico tonight. Dominating the event from the first stage, the Norwegian clinched three stage wins and ended the day 20.5 seconds ahead...

Marking an impressive debut for the new Subaru Impreza WRC2005, Subaru's Petter Solberg leads the Corona Rally Mexico tonight. Dominating the event from the first stage, the Norwegian clinched three stage wins and ended the day 20.5 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Petter's team-mate Chris Atkinson demonstrated remarkable pace aboard his Impreza. Making his debut as a points-nominated driver for the Subaru team, the young Australian set a string of impressive stage times, including a career-best third, and ended the day in fifth place overall.

Stage Reports

SS1: 0907 Ibarrillia - El Zauco 1 (22.56km)

Petter Solberg and the new Subaru Impreza WRC2005 made their competitive debut in the best possible way on the first stage of Rally Mexico, by setting the winning pace and finishing 2.2 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Gaining excellent traction with his Pirelli tyres, Solberg powered his Impreza though the 22km gravel stage to take the early advantage. Competing for the first time as a points nominated driver for Subaru and on only his second event in a WRC car, Petter's team-mate Chris Atkinson put in a strong performance to set the third-fastest time - his best ever stage WRC stage finish. Citroen's Francois Duval was fourth fastest and Marcus Gronholm, who encountered a brake problem, was fifth. Ford's Toni Gardemeister was suffering with 'flu and was thirteenth fastest, while Sebastien Loeb damaged his Citroen's right rear damper, but was second quickest. As the air temperature rose to 20C, the loose gravel stage, presented crews with a combination of narrow tracks, fast open sections and an undulating road surface. Once the stage was complete, crews drove 64km to the start of SS2. Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 13:25.4

SS2: 1025 Ortega - La Esperanza 1 (29.06km)

Sebastien Loeb's unhappy record on Rally Mexico continued on SS2, when the damaged rear damper on his Citroen worsened and he lost more than 2 minutes 30 seconds. He ended the test in sixteenth position overall. Running behind the Frenchman on the road, Petter Solberg was slowed as he had to overtake Loeb's car mid stage, but was second fastest and finished two seconds off Gronholm's winning time. Duval was third quickest and Atkinson, who continued to set an impressive pace, was fourth. Toni Gardemeister went off the road in his Focus and lost 20 seconds, while Skoda driver Jani Paasonen retired from the Leg when his Fabia left the stage 100 metres from the finish line and sustained substantial front-end car damage. In common with many WRC drivers, Harri Rovanpera, Petter Solberg, Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin reported that the smooth and grippy Mexican stages were proving harder than expected on brakes. After the stage was complete, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to SS3.Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 17:00.0

SS3: 1116 Santana - Cubilete 1 (21.80km)

Starting at an altitude of 2,243 metres above sea level, the 21km stage from Santana was one of the fastest of the event. Featuring wide mountain tracks of hard-packed gravel, the test took crews through the villages of Santana and La Luz, before finishing on the cobbled streets of Cubilete. With less loose gravel covering the road than on the previous two tests, Markko Martin set an average speed of 110.89kph in his Peugeot and was fastest. Gardemeister was second fastest and Solberg was third. Loeb continued to struggle in his damaged Xsara, which by now featured a damaged right rear tyre and wheel rim, and lost a further 1 minute 17 seconds to the leaders. A hydraulic problem that had affected the braking system on Marcus Gronholm's Peugeot worsened and also began to affect the clutch mechanism too. He was sixth fastest. After the finish, crews drove 47km back to Leon for a 30-minute service. Fastest Stage Time: Martin (Peugeot) 11:47.7

SS4: 1408 Ibarrilla - El Zauco 2 (22.56km)

Shaving 14.2 seconds off his previous time through the 22km stage from Ibarrilla, Petter Solberg was again fastest in his Pirelli-shod Impreza WRC2005 to set an average speed of 102.65kph and take a second stage win. Sebastien Loeb collected a 20-second time penalty for leaving service two minutes late after extensive repair work to his car overran, however he was second fastest on the stage to move up to fifteenth position overall. Ford's Roman Kresta was third, ahead of his nominated Ford team-mate Dani Sola. Harri Rovanpera struggled to control the rear of his Mitsubishi and reported a small tyre vibration. With the last 16km of the repeated test featuring wide, flowing open roads lined with cacti, the stage offered excellent vantage points for the thousands of fans who had turned out to see their favourite rally drivers compete in temperatures of up to 24C. Chris Atkinson was eighth fastest and, after the stage was complete, crews drove 64km east of Leon to the start of SS5. Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 13:11.2

SS5: 1526 Ortega - La Esperanza 2 (29.06km)

The highest stage of the rally, the repeated test from Ortega peaked at 2,737 metres above sea level. A slippery stage, its road surface offered a contrast of hard packed loose gravel with softer, sandier sections. 2003 World Champion Petter Solberg was 4.4 seconds faster that the rest of the field to take a third stage win, while Loeb was second fastest and Martin third. Chris Atkinson continued his impressive gravel debut and was sixth fastest, ahead of Kresta and Rovanpera who were seventh and eighth respectively. Gardemeister suffered a spin 10km in and was eleventh. Climbing to 29C, the air temperature reached its highest point of the day during this stage. Once the 29km stage was complete, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of SS6. Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 16:33.7

SS6: 1617 Santana - Cubilete 2 (21.80km)

Less than ten seconds separated the times of the top nine drivers through the repeated Santana stage, which reached more than 2,400 metres above sea level. Despite suffering intermittent brake problems in his Peugeot, Marcus Gronholm took the win, with team-mate Martin second and Loeb third. Having built an overall advantage of more than 20 seconds throughout the day, Subaru's Solberg was fourth fastest to secure the overnight lead. Atkinson was seventh fastest to end the day in fifth. There were no leading retirements and, once the stage was complete, crews returned to Leon for an end of day 45-minute service.Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 11:44.6

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg
I'm very happy to be leading this event with the new car - it's been good fun out there. To be honest I wasn't feeling too confident with the set-up yesterday, and I thought we might struggle a bit, but we've made a few adjustments during the day and already the car is good enough to put us at the top of the leaderboard. I know the car is capable of a lot more though, and until I've got it set-up correctly, I won't be completely happy. But for sure the new car is very good. We'll change a few things tonight and hopefully we can keep improving on tomorrow's Leg. I'm certainly looking forward to it.

Chris Atkinson
Yes, not bad. It's been my first day in a WRC car on a gravel rally and to get a top-three stage time felt really good. I've still a lot to learn though and hopefully there'll be some more improvement over the next couple of days. I'm learning more about the set-up of the car all the time, and I think that I can find some more pace, through adjusting the set-up so the car handles more to my liking. At the moment I think the car is spending too much time sideways on the longer corners, so I want to make it a little bit neater. Overall though it's been an encouraging day and I'm hoping to learn more on tomorrow's stages.

Team Principal, David Lapworth
All in all, the day has more than lived up to our expectations. For Petter to be leading at the end of the first day on the debut of the new car is already some reward for the hard work that has gone on over the winter. And, as Petter is gaining experience of the new car on the stages, he's getting more confident as he fine-tunes the suspension to his liking. Yet again Chris has exceeded our expectations. He's done remarkably well for someone with so little experience. He has set very competitive times and given good feedback to his engineers, which will help his performance on the two remaining days.

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager:
Big satisfaction for all of us from the excellent performances of Petter and Chris with our new development of the XR3 tyre. For the first time we are using this tyre for medium to fast gravel rallies whereas in the past it was used only on slow and rough gravel rallies. Our testing work has allowed us to expand the capabilities of the XR3 and the results are clear to see.

Technical Talk

One Engine, Two Events
FIA regulations introduced for the 2005 WRC season mean that rallies are now 'paired' and WRC manufacturers must use one engine for two events. We spoke to SWRT Principal David Lapworth to find out what this means for the Subaru team and the Subaru Impreza WRC2005:

While the new rules don't make a major difference to the way that we design the engine, they do make a difference to the tactics of using an engine. Subaru has an excellent record of reliability and obviously that's something we think about as part of our engine development programme. The engine is an area of the car that can be pushed to the limit to obtain more power, but only at the expense of risk - we must balance performance against reliability. In the past, we tried not to be too greedy with power, but tactically increased the risk on some stages if we were fighting for a win. Now we have to complete two events with one engine, we're far less likely to do that on the first of the 'paired' events. Despite this, Subaru is still following a policy of going for wins rather than for points.

We have to build some safety margin into the engine if we're going to run the same specification all year. A low altitude, high-speed event such as Sweden places far greater stress on an engine than a high altitude event such as Mexico. FIA homologation regulations don't allow changes to the basic specification for each event.

The 'Mexico / New Zealand pairing' is probably the most interesting test of the new engine regulations. Mexico runs at more than 2000 metres above sea level and is very high altitude, while New Zealand is only a few hundred metres above sea level at most. In the past a different mechanical specification and a different compression ratio of engine may have been used for high events such as Mexico and Argentina, but from now on team's have to determine the best compromise."

Tomorrow's Leg

Saturday 12 March 2005
Starts at 0830hrs when the first car will leave Leon parc ferme. Crews will contest six further stages (two groups of three), separated by a 30-minute service in Leon at 1337hrs. Including 146.48 competitive kilometres, Leg two is just 0.36km shorter than Leg one. The day will conclude after a 45-minute service at 1839hrs.


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About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team