Rally New Zealand - News from Leg One Championship leader Petter Solberg (Subaru) took an early lead which he held onto for three stages. But the Norwegian could shake off neither Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) nor Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot). The trio...
Rally New Zealand - News from Leg One
Championship leader Petter Solberg (Subaru) took an early lead which he held onto for three stages. But the Norwegian could shake off neither Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) nor Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot). The trio reached service midway through the day with Loeb heading Gronholm and Solberg but they were covered by just 0.8sec. Loeb was sensational through the afternoon tests. He was fastest on three of the four stages to open a 23.1sec advantage over Gronholm. Solberg could not hold off a charging Francois Duval (Citroen), who opted for the same tyres as Gardemeister (Ford), and ended the leg 5.0sec ahead. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) again impressed and he lies fifth after claiming a first fastest time in the WRC on the final stage. Gig Galli (Mitsubishi) ran as high as sixth before alternator problems this afternoon dropped him to 10th. Janne Tuohino (Skoda) incurred a 50 second penalty after his team had to fit a replacement electronic control unit in the engine moments before the start. The Finn is 12th.
An outstanding first day run has seen Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena emerge as early leaders of Rally New Zealand. Their team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot follow in an excellent 3rd place, less than 4s behind Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen, and there is a palpable feeling of satisfaction in the Citroën camp.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: Soon after the start of 'Batley 2', I felt my decision to run with a harder compound tyre was the right choice. That feeling was reinforced by my car's handling and I was really able to push through the three repeated stages which had cleaned up since the morning. That said, I didn't think I would be able to pull out such a big gap. There was a lot of surface gravel in the last stage of the day which hadn't yet been covered but the balance of my car enabled me to cope with that. The progress we have made here is due to a number of factors: I have more experience, I am able to adapt my driving to the terrain, to brake late and stay on the clean lines through the corners. And that's also possible because the car allows me to do it. It has improved on all fronts, as have our tyres. Those in the hunt for victory tomorrow will benefit from the same stage conditions. I will try not to make any mistakes and defend the gap I have pulled out."
Francois Duval / Stephane Prevot: "The final stage of the day was new for everyone, and my 11th position on the road here was an advantage. I am really pleased to be 3rd this evening on a rally that requires so much experience, especially since it is still possible to fine-tune the set- up of my Xsara. I'm not far behind Marcus [Gronholm] but that won't change my approach. I will keep to the same pace tomorrow without worrying about my stage times. As I have already said, I will be delighted if I can score the six points for Citroën and myself that go with 3rd place."
Despite the disadvantage of running first on the road, Petter Solberg made the perfect start to Rally New Zealand today by setting the fastest time on the first stage of the event. An impressive and trouble-free performance from Petter through the rest of the Leg kept him in contention for the lead and he will start tomorrow's second day just 31 seconds off the top-spot, and with the benefit of a far more advantageous road position. Contesting only his third event in a WRC-class car, Petter's team-mate Chris Atkinson delivered another impressive, mature drive aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2005. Clinching two WRC stage wins (the first of his career), the young Australian proved to be a fast learner as he ended the day in fifth place overall.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "I'm very happy with what we've done today, we've made a really good start. In the morning we took a risk with a softer tyre and were very pleased with the performance. I didn't lose nearly as much time as I thought I would. In the afternoon we went for the same plan, with a softer tyre, only this time it was a mistake and, looking back, we should have taken a harder one. But generally, even though we could have done better, I'm still very happy. We've had absolutely no problems, the car is driving very well, giving lots of confidence, and considering we've been first through the stages all day, we're not too far off the lead. There's a long way to go yet and I'm still aiming for a good points finish."
Chris Atkinson/Glen Macneall: "We've had a good day today and of course it's encouraging to have collected a couple of stage wins too. The road position worked out well for us and after a cautious start I'm feeling much more confident on the gravel. I think we can continue at this pace, and keep on learning - we are not going after the guys at the front. I think we can make some more adjustments to the car and make it 100 per cent, but at this stage practice is going to make the most difference to my times. For us it is all about getting more experience over the next couple of days and hopefully getting a good result."
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen ended today's opening leg of the Rally New Zealand in sixth. After a difficult morning on slippery roads, the Finns' performance was transformed by a new untried tyre construction and they set consistently fast times to climb the leaderboard in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "I had good grip on the first stage, which was quite humid and damp, but the next three tests were difficult. I couldn't find a good line because the roads were drier and there was a lot of loose gravel. I tried to push and stay on the line that the first two cars had created, but it wasn't easy because after only two cars there wasn't really a clean line to follow. The grip was fantastic this afternoon. We made an excellent tyre choice and pushed hard. Everything felt better and we set some good times. My brake pedal felt a little soft on stage seven but it wasn't a major problem. Tomorrow I will try to stay at the same rhythm and see if I can attack even harder.
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: Withdrew after shakedown accident
Three drivers broke away from the pack at the first opportunity: the same trio that have set the pace all year. Sebastien Loeb, Marcus Gronholm and Petter Solberg traded seconds all day. After the first loop of four stages, totalling 72 competitive kilometres, they were covered by just eight tenths of a second. Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm ended the day 2nd, less than half a minute behind leader Sebastien Loeb. Team mate Markko Martin is lying 7th after chossing too soft a tyre.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "I was reasonably pleased after the first loop of stages, knowing that I had made a tyre choice that was a bit too hard. Unfortunately, we had the opposite problem in the afternoon, and chose tyres that were too soft. We struggled to find traction, so it was a frustrating afternoon. Generally speaking, it was quite a messy day where we made life difficult for ourselves. However, we end the leg just 20 seconds off the lead and we have had no problems with the car. I've always had a good feeling with the roads here, so we can still challenge for the lead. I'm looking forward to the rest of the event."
Markko Martin/Michael Park: "Since the last rally in Mexico and our recent tests I've had a better feeling with the car. This morning started off OK, but like Marcus I chose tyres that were too soft for the afternoon's stages and I struggled a bit. This is the sort of rally where you have to make everything absolutely perfect in order to get a good rhythm and I am not at that point yet. There are a few adjustments I would like to make to the car and hopefully that will help us climb up the order over the remaining two days."
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team suffered a difficult opening leg in Rally New Zealand, uncharacteristic technical problems dropping "Gigi" Galli/Guido D'Amore down the leaderboard from sixth to 10th, while team-mates Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen are just one position ahead in ninth in the second Lancer WRC05.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "Okay, today has gone quite well but our times are not so fantastic. This morning our tires were too hard and this afternoon they were too soft... The car has been way too sideways so we will have to try to find a solution for this. In the fifth stage my drink bottle came out of its holder and I had to drive the whole stage with it rolling around in the foot-well; this wasn't so great either. Hopefully tomorrow we can do something better."
Gigi Galli/Guido D'Amore: "Today has been incredible, I feel completely finished! The clutch broke at the end of the first stage and we struggled at the start and finish of each stage, having to push and jump start the car at times. We also had a moment in the third stage when there was a huge stone in the road and I just didn't know where to go or what to do! I knew it would break the wheel so I had to drive completely over it; the car flew in the air and we hit a whole line of posts along the side of the road."
Armin Schwarz and Janne Tuohino hold 11th and 12th places respectively after the opening day of Rally New Zealand, the fourth round of the 2005 World Rally Championship. After a trouble-free shakedown for the Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team, today began with frustration for Janne. As he prepared to leave service there was a problem with the electronic connection to the throttle of the Fabia WRC 05 that forced a change of engine ECU and cost him a 50 seconds penalty for being late out of service. Over today's eight stages the Fabia WRC 05 set top 10 times on every stage; Janne finishing in the top group on six occasions (including sixth on SS4 and fifth on SS8) and Armin on five.
Janne Tuohino/Mikko Markkula: "I reversed out of the service bay quite normally but as soon as I selected first gear there was no throttle. I had to put it out of my mind quickly and concentrate on driving cleanly. This is my first Rally New Zealand so I've been trying to drive with some safety in mind and just get quicker step by step. I tried wider tyres this afternoon but I preferred the handling of the narrow ones so I will probably use those for the rest of the event."
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "I had a launch control problem on the second stage but otherwise everything is fine. There is a lot of loose gravel outside the clean lines and if you get onto it you lose a lot of grip immediately. The stages are really good here and this afternoon when they were cleaner it was possible to push with a lot more confidence and my times were closer to the leading cars."