Rally Mexico: Subaru leg one summary

In an impressive debut for the new Subaru Impreza WRC2004, Petter Solberg took the lead of the rally from the first stage. He collected two stage wins and returned to Leon at the end of the day with a leading margin of 5.6 seconds. His team-mate...

In an impressive debut for the new Subaru Impreza WRC2004, Petter Solberg took the lead of the rally from the first stage. He collected two stage wins and returned to Leon at the end of the day with a leading margin of 5.6 seconds. His team-mate Mikko Hirvonen ended the day in seventh place, well placed ahead of tomorrow's action. But the Leg ended in bitter disappointment for Petter when event Stewards added a five-minute time penalty for an incident in the time control before the final service. Petter and co-driver Phil Mills were struggling to push their car the last few yards into service after it suffered a flat battery, when a group of bystanders helped, even though neither crewmember had asked for assistance. This extra help contravened WRC regulations.

Stage Reports

SS1 1033hrs Ortega - La Esperanza 1 29.06km

Overnight heavy rain altered the condition of the event's opening stages and changed the road surface from dry and sandy to muddy and damp. With new FIA regulations limiting tyre options and no gravel crews to supply up-to-the-minute information on the road surface, teams had a tricky tyre choice to make for the opening two stages of the rally. Almost every WRC team elected to use a wide tyre with a closed tread pattern, yet both Subaru drivers opted for a narrow tyre with an open tread and, for SS1, this seemed to be the correct choice. Marking the competitive debut of the Subaru Impreza WRC2004, Petter Solberg was fastest to finish 8.7 seconds clear of the rest of the field, while Marcus Gronholm was second and Markko Martin, third. Temperatures throughout the test hovered around 7°C. Peaking at 2,737 metres above sea level, the Ortega stage is the highest of the event and has a mean altitude of 2,469 meters. After the finish, crews travelled to the start of SS2.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 16:38.7

SS2 1121hrs Santana - Cubilete 22.61km

This time Sebastien Loeb was fastest, with Solberg second and Gronholm third. As the sun came out and temperatures rose to 18°C, sections of the 22.61km stage began to dry. Another high stage, at an average of 2,355 metres above sea level, meant thinner air and less engine power for all competitors. With the average speed of the winning car below 110kph, many drivers said they missed the extra power on the frequent wide and fast sections where they were absolutely flat out. Starting alongside a huge ruin in the village of Santana, the stage took crews past a large lake at La Luz before reaching an old church on the summit of EI Cubilete, one of the most distinctive landmarks in the whole area. There were no leading retirements, but Mitsubishi driver Gigi Galli struggled with brake problems and lost over 3 minutes. After the finish, crews returned to Leon for the first service of the day.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 12:25.6

SS3 1416hrs Ibarrilla - El Zauco 27.30km

Another stage win for Petter Solberg, who expertly negotiated the stage's technical combination of narrow hard packed gravel tracks, fast open sections and twisty undulating roads, to take his second stage win of the event. Gronholm was second fastest and Loeb, third. In the increasingly warm Mexican sunshine, road temperatures continued to rise and as a result all teams opted to use hard compound tyres to cope with the conditions. Not a great stage for Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera. Making his first WRC appearance since 2003 Wales Rally GB, and having reported in the preceding service that he had found a good driving rhythm, the Finn's 307 was struck by a brake problem in the second half of the stage. He was able to finish, but dropped more than 20 seconds to the leaders. Unfortunately for him, he would have to complete another stage and 165km before legally returning to service.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 17:13.9

SS4 1534hrs Ortega - La Esperanza 2 29.06km

A repeat of the first stage of the day, but a changing road surface made it a very different challenge second time around. After five hours of Mexican sunshine the road surface had dried considerably burning off the moisture to leave a mixture of hard-packed loose gravel and soft dirt. Answering Petter's charge, Citroen's Loeb was fastest to take his second stage win of the event. But it wasn't enough for the lead and Petter was second fastest to maintain overall lead by 5.6 seconds. Gronholm was third fastest and Sainz fourth, while Rovanpera overcame his brake troubles to finish fifth. There were problems for Markko Martin when a sixth gear spin cost him almost half a minute and overall fourth, but he completed the test and ended the day in fifth position overall.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 16:22.9

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg

I'm extremely disappointed by what has happened. It's almost unbelievable. Everything was going so well on the stages that to lose all that good work like this, when we were returning the car at the end of the day, is tough to accept. Up to this point we had really had a good day. The stages were very difficult, some fast, some slow, I think we had a bit of everything, but there were no major problems. I was looking forward to a good fight with Sebastien and Marcus tomorrow, but now it's just about getting experience.

Mikko Hirvonen

This is the first time I've driven on a loose surface event with the Impreza and my strategy was to start at a steady pace and build experience of the car in these conditions. Things started well and I was happier with my performance on the first two stages than those this afternoon. I found it hard on SS3 and SS4 to find a pace that I felt good with. But, I'm hoping that I'll be able to increase the pace a little tomorrow.

David Lapworth , Team Principal

The five minute penalty is a bitter pill to swallow after such a perfect start to the event. The new car had lived up to our expectations and Petter had driven really well, ending the day perfectly poised for tomorrow. Clearly our objectives for this rally have now changed. We have to make sure Petter gets experience of all stages so we can put the record straight next year and salvage as many points as possible over the next two days.

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio , Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager

We are very satisfied with the results of the first day. In widely varying conditions and levels of grip, the performance of the K and KM Pirelli tyres allowed Solberg to lead all day before collecting his penalty. We will wait now to see what happens.

Team Talk
Phil Mills and pace notes for a new event

How do you make the pace notes?

Pace notes for an event are made during the recce when the drivers and co-drivers make two passes through the stages and speed is limited to a maximum of 90kph. During the first pass, Petter describes the road to me, including the road surface and every twist and turn, and I write his comments down in shorthand. During the second pass I read the notes back to Petter and he'll make any amendments he feels necessary.

Do all co-drivers make pace notes in the same way?

Yes, it's similar in the fact that we all have a book and write down how the driver sees the road, but all co-drivers have their own style. Shorthand techniques vary and while some will put eight lines on a page, some will put three. Could I read someone else's notes? Perhaps, co-drivers all use the same shorthand language and symbols, but you'd have to give me a few minutes to study it first!

Is there more work for a co-driver at a new event?

Yes. We didn't have any previous pace notes from any sections of the road and so I arrived with five new empty pace note books. I used to re-write all my notes in the evening after each day of the recce, but with the new format there's no time to do that so we're having to use our original recce notes for this event.

What differences will the new 2+3 format make to your job?

It's almost impossible to make any fresh notes in the evenings due to the shorter time scale. We're using the original corrected notes made during the recce for this event.

What's the best feature of Mexico?

It's an exciting country and a new challenge. Sebastien (Loeb) and Harri (Rovanpera) had been here before so they had a slight advantage at the start, knowing something about tyre wear and temperatures, but for us it was a bit of journey into the unknown.

Tomorrow's Leg
Saturday 13 March 2004

Leg two starts tomorrow at 0800hrs when crews leave Leon parc ferme and travel 22.17km east to the start of the first test of the day. The longest of the event, Leg two includes a further six stages and 154.34 competitive kilometres. Based around the single covered service area in Leon, the day kicks off with a 25.58km test which starts at 0855hrs.


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Harri Rovanpera , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Mikko Hirvonen , Gianluigi Galli , Markko Martin
Teams Citroën World Rally Team