Rally New Zealand: Subaru leg one summary

After completing nine of 23 stages, Petter Solberg holds the overnight lead of Rally New Zealand. On the first leg of the competition Solberg put in an excellent performance at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 and collected four stage wins.

After completing nine of 23 stages, Petter Solberg holds the overnight lead of Rally New Zealand. On the first leg of the competition Solberg put in an excellent performance at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 and collected four stage wins. On his fourth event with the Subaru team, Mikko Hirvonen gained more vital experience of the event and the Impreza WRC2004. He holds overnight 8th place, and is on target to collect more championship points on Sunday.

SS1: 1910 (Thur) Manukau Super 1 (2.10km)

New Zealand's biggest annual sporting event got off to an electrifying start at the super special stage at Manukau City, 20 minutes south of Auckland. Thousands of spectators flocked to the floodlit stage and were thrilled by head-to-head sideways action as the World's leading drivers put their state-of-the-art cars through their paces on the tricky figure of eight course that included a jump and water splash. Ford's Markko Martin took the first stage win, with Marcus Gronholm of Peugeot second and Martin's team-mate Francois Duval third.
Fastest Time: Martin (Ford) 1:24.5

SS2: 1955 (Thur) Manukau Super 1 (2.10km)

A second run through the crowd-pleasing super special brought more close racing from the leading WRC drivers. Competing in his Impreza WRC2004, Petter Solberg was fastest with Marcus Gronholm second. Mikko Hirvonen, Harri Rovanpera and Markko Martin all stopped the clock at the same time to tie third, despite the Ford driver suffering a shattered windscreen due to stones flicked up by Gronholm's Peugeot. There was bitter disappointment for the Mitsubishi team when both of their Lancer WRC04 entries developed an identical electrical problem that prevented their engines starting before the stage. Unable to make it to the line, drivers Gilles Panizzi and Kristian Sohlberg retired from the rally. After the stage Markko Martin received medical treatment to remove a sliver of glass from his eye.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 1:22.4

SS3: 1013 Wairere 1 (18.90km)

Warm and sunny conditions greeted the remaining WRC drivers at the start of the first 'proper' test of the event, the 18.90km stage at Wairere. Running at the head of the field, Citroen's Sebastien Loeb and Ford's Markko Martin commented that they were struggling to find grip on the loose and slippery road surface, they lost 17 seconds and 10.5 seconds respectively to the leading drivers. Capitalising on lower running positions and cleaner roads, Subaru's Petter Solberg and Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm set exactly the same time to tie for the stage win and finish 5.9 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Petter's time kept him in the overall lead of the rally, even though he had an uncomfortable stage when fumes from a hot spare tyre irritated his eyes. The problem was caused when the rear silencer of his car's exhaust system was bumped closer than normal to the boot floor and the spare wheel well. Finnish gravel expert, Harri Rovanpera was third fastest, with Peugeot privateer Daniel Carlsson fourth. Following the successful medical procedure the previous night, Marko Martin's eye was causing him no discomfort. After the finish line, cars moved directly to the start of SS4.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) & Gronholm (Peugeot) 10:42.5

SS4: Cassidy (15.78km)

As air temperatures rose to 20°C, Solberg was again fastest in his Impreza WRC2004 to notch up his third consecutive stage win. Rovanpera was second fastest and Martin, competing in the new Focus WRC04, third. Current WRC leader Loeb continued to be impeded by his first-on-the-road running position and was seventh fastest, losing a further 12.4 seconds to Solberg. Not a good start to the event for Peugeot driver, and Petter's brother, Henning Solberg. Competing in a Bozian prepared 206, the Norwegian went off the road mid test and was unable to continue. After the finish, crews moved directly to the start of SS5.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 9:13.7

SS5: 1114 Bull (31.73km)

2003 World Champion co-driver Phil Mills described SS5 as a classic New Zealand stage, 'very flowing, very cambered and very fast.' While the dry and loose surface continued to cause headaches for the front-runners, it wasn't all good news for those cars further down the order. Many of the faster corners became slippery as leading competitors who were taking aggressive cuts on the corners flicked mud from the soft verge onto the road. This time Gronholm was quickest, while another storming run from Solberg saw the Norwegian finish second. Adopting a cautious approach to the opening stages, and adjusting his driving technique to suit the demanding and heavily cambered road conditions, Mikko Hirvonen was eighth fastest. Sainz was ninth, commenting that his car felt nervous and his pedal brake 'spongy'. There were no retirements and after the finish crews returned to Paparoa for the second service of the day.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 19:55.6

SS6: 1313 Wairere 2 (18.90km)

There were nervous moments for the Peugeot team on the second run through the Wairere test, when Marcus Gronholm rolled his 307 just meters from the finish. Charging through the test (he had been fastest at the previous split time), the three-time winner of the event clipped the apex of a right-hand corner, which flipped the car over. Ironically, Gronholm almost rolled his 206WRC in a similar incident on exactly the same corner last year. Despite comprehensive bodywork damage, the Finn was able to continue, but lost 39.2 seconds and the overall lead. His team-mate Rovanpera took the stage win, while Solberg was second and Duval third. Mikko Hirvonen was eighth fastest, after running wide on a corner and bouncing his Impreza across a ditch. Fortunately the car landed back on the road and the young Finn, who was contesting his second WRC New Zealand event, was able to continue. After the finish, crews completed the 12.43km road section to the start of SS7.
Fastest Time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 10:27.2

SS7: 1346 Possum (Cassidy / Bull) (48.21km)

A repeat of SS4 and SS5, the Cassidy and Bull stages were combined to make the marathon 49km SS7 which was named in memory of New Zealand rally driver Possum Bourne, who died last year. Recording an average speed of 100kph, Rovanpera was fastest, to take the overall lead of the rally from Solberg, while his team-mate Gronholm, battling with dust pouring into the cockpit from a broken passenger window, was second fastest. Loeb was third. Commenting that his tyres had been too soft, Markko Martin struggled to find sufficient grip in his Focus though the final 20km and posted the sixth fastest time. After the finish, crews returned to Paparoa for a scheduled service.
Fastest Time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 28:55.9

SS8: 1925 Manukau Super 3 (2.10km)
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 1:24.8

SS9: 1946 Manukau Super 4 (2.10km)

Thousands of spectators once again enjoyed the thrilling spectacle of nighttime rallying as the drivers went head to head on the floodlit super special in Manukau. A stage win (SS8) and a second-fastest time (SS9) from Solberg saw him re-take the rally lead from Harri Rovanpera by a margin of five seconds.
Fastest Time: Duval (Ford) 1:24.0

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg
"I'm happy, we've had no major problems at all today. The new tyres from Pirelli have been very good, perhaps they were a little too soft on the long section (SS7), but I'm very happy with the general set up. We've had a good battle with Harri today, but Leg one is just a warm up. We'll see what happens tomorrow, that's when the real rally starts."

Mikko Hirvonen
"It's been a very encouraging day. I'm happier with what I've achieved today than my performance on the first day in Mexico. Looking at the state of my tyres after the stages, my driving is less aggressive now and is more effective. I've still got some way to go before I have a rhythm that I'm totally happy with on these stages, but I'm encouraged and looking forward to tomorrow."

David Lapworth , Team Principal
"We came here looking for a benchmark of the performance of our new car against the new Citroen, Ford and Peugeot and overall we're very satisfied with the result of the first day. Petter came here hungry for a win and, at this point, is perfectly poised to achieve this. Mikko's clear objective is to develop his driving style, learn more about the event and gradually build his pace. He's right on plan. It's far too early to begin speculating about final results at this stage, but I'm happy that we've made such a good start."

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio , Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
"The conditions were perfect for us to give our new KP tyres their competitive debut, and the results have been very positive. They have performed well both in terms of speed and durability, so we're all looking forward to the rest of the event."

Team Talk

Aerodynamics and the WRC In pure performance terms, aerodynamics are more important for circuit race cars than rally cars. While average speeds on a circuit might be as high as 200kph, on a rally they are nearer 100kph. Aerodynamic forces are proportional to the square of the speed, so at 200kph the aerodynamic forces are four times greater than they are at 100kph

Since the 1997 WRC regulations were introduced, teams predominantly focused on development inside the car, such as the engine, chassis and weight distribution. But with competition between WRC cars now closer than ever before, teams are looking at all details that can make a difference - including aerodynamics

At 160kph, airflow around an average road car can produce 100kgs of lift, which generates less grip when cornering and braking. New aerodynamic features on the Subaru Impreza WRC2004, such as it's front bumper, rear wing and cooling system, are designed to ensure the air flow over the car produces downforce and increases stability

When a rally car travels sideways, aerodynamic devices can become less effective and the car can lose grip. The Subaru Impreza WRC's unique rear wing has been designed to ensure that it produces downforce, even when the car is travelling at a sideways angle

Engine cooling is another aerodynamic consideration. On slower rallies, such as Cyprus where the average speed can be as low as 67kph, keeping engine temperatures under control requires the maximum possible airflow through the radiators and coolers. In contrast, when a rally car moves through faster sections, too much air directed for cooling purposes can become a drag penalty and reduce the top speed

To overcome this, the mounting angle of the engine radiator in the Subaru Impreza WRC2004 has been positioned to assist efficient airflow, while a ducted system vents hot air from the turbo intercooler upwards through a slot in the bonnet

Tomorrow's Leg

Leg two starts at 0530hrs, when crews will leave Auckland parc ferme for the first service of the day. Comprising a further eight stages and 138.84 competitive kilometres, the Leg is based around the Paparoa service park, 140km north of Auckland. Including two loops of four stages, the first starts at 1123hrs, and the final stage at 1657hrs. Mikko Hirvonen will start the Leg running third on the road, while Petter will be ninth.


Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team