WRC

Rally New Zealand: Subaru leg one summary

Despite the disadvantage of running first on the road, Petter Solberg made the perfect start to Rally New Zealand by setting the fastest time on the first stage of the event. An impressive and trouble-free performance from Petter through the rest...

Despite the disadvantage of running first on the road, Petter Solberg made the perfect start to Rally New Zealand 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 just 31 seconds off the top-spot, and with the benefit of a 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.

Stage Reports

SS1: 0953 Parahi 1 (25.33km)

Overnight rain had dampened the 25km stage from Parahi, but as the air temperature rose to 25C, the road began to dry as crews contested the first stage of the rally. Running first on the road, Subaru's Petter Solberg acted as road sweeper as his Impreza WRC2005 cleared the stage of loose gravel for those following. Remarkably, Solberg still managed to set an average speed of 116.98kph and took the stage win. (A more detailed analysis of road cleaning on Leg one can be found later in this release). Sebastien Loeb was second fastest, while Francois Duval was third and Chris Atkinson, making only his third start in a WRC car, was sixth. Ford's Roman Kresta failed to start the Leg following an accident during Thursday's shakedown. Hitting a bank 3km into the test stage, the Czech driver rolled his Focus several times and damaged its roll cage. The crew were unhurt in the incident, but the Ford was too damaged to be able to start, leaving Toni Gardemeister as Ford's sole remaining points-nominated driver. Skoda's Janne Tuohino started the stage five minutes late when his team opted to change his Fabia's Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and collected a 50 second time-penalty, while Ford privateer Anthony Warmbold completed the stage with no power steering.Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 12:59.5

SS2: 1046 Batley 1 (19.33km)

Including a tricky right-hand junction 2km from the start and a very narrow, twisty section in the middle, the 19.33km stage from the town of Batley is regarded as one of the most difficult of the event. As the damp gravel continued to dry in the sunshine, Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm was fastest, while Solberg and Loeb set exactly the same time to tie for second. Warmbold lost almost two minutes as he continued to struggle through the twisty stage with no power steering, while Chris Atkinson suffered a small spin on a second gear corner and was tenth fastest. Mitsubishi driver Gigi Galli suffered with a clutch problem, which made it difficult to start his Lancer's engine. Once the stage was complete, crews drove a short 3km liaison section to the start of SS3. Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 10:30.7

SS3: 1114 Waipu Gorge 1 (11.24km)

Running twelfth on the road, Subaru's Chris Atkinson was fastest through the Waipu Gorge test to take the first stage win of his fledgling WRC career. Capitalising on his advantageous road position, the Australian set the quickest time at each of the test's three split points and finished 1.2 seconds faster than second-fastest Sebastien Loeb. His team-mate Petter Solberg was third fastest, losing valuable seconds as he swept the dry, loose gravel surface for those behind. After a fast opening 4km section, the stage featured a slower, twistier route through a gorge, which was shadowed by a canopy of trees. There were no leading retirements and just eight seconds separated the top twelve fastest stage times.Fastest Stage Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 6:40.0

SS4: 1137 Brooks 1 (16.15km)

As the air temperature reached 28C, the first pass through the 16.15km stage from Brooks presented crews with a series of crests, followed by a tight and twisty downhill section. It also featured a ford and a bridge, before concluding with an open, flowing loose gravel section run through open countryside. Revelling in the conditions, fifth-on-the-road Gronholm was fastest in his Peugeot 307, while Atkinson delivered another impressive performance aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2005 to finish second fastest. Loeb was third and Solberg fifth. Markko Martin struggled to find a driving rhythm through the stage and was seventh fastest. Once the stage was complete, crews returned to Paparoa for a 30-minute service.Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 9:45.0

SS5: 1333 Batley 2 (19.33km)

Skies were overcast for the second pass through the tricky 19.33km stage from Batley, although the air temperature remained around 26C. Loeb was fastest through the narrow stage and shaved 29.7 seconds off Gronholm's previous winning time to demonstrate the speed benefit of driving on cleaner roads. Gronholm was second fastest, while Duval was third and Solberg, who had opted to run on soft compound tyres, was fourth. A spirited performance from Ford's Toni Gardemeister saw him finish fifth fastest, while Atkinson was sixth. The Australian's competitive time moved him ahead of Peugeot's Markko Martin in the overall standings. There were no leading retirements and, once the test was complete, crews moved to the start of SS6. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 10:11.0

SS6: 1401 Waipu Gorge 2 (11.24km)

Setting an average speed of 105.78kph, Loeb was again fastest on the repeated Waipu Gorge stage, with Duval second and Gardemeister third. Running on tyres that he believed were too soft for the dry conditions, Petter Solberg continued to lose time at the head of the field and was fifth fastest, while his team-mate Atkinson suffered a bad tyre vibration and was seventh. Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli lost around 15 seconds when his Lancer was struck by an alternator problem and he fell to eighth position overall. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 6:22.5

SS7: 1424 Brooks 2 (16.15km)

In line with the other New Zealand rally stages, the smooth, undulating road surface and overall low altitude of the repeated Brooks test placed few mechanical pressures on the cars, meaning the emphasis was on running order and driver performance. First-on-the-road Solberg was fifth fastest, while second-on-the-road Martin was seventh. Loeb took his third consecutive win, while Francois Duval was second and Gronholm third. Fulfilling his objective of learning more about the stage conditions and his Subaru Impreza WRC2005, Chris Atkinson was sixth fastest. Galli lost another 30 seconds due to his Lancer's alternator problem and was thirteenth. Following the conclusion of the stage, crews drove 7.56km to the start of SS8. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 9:17.7

SS8: 1454 Millbrook (10.45km)

Making the most of the Millbrook stage and his advantageous road position, Chris Atkinson delivered a measured drive aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2005 to take his second stage win. Completing the tricky stage 2 seconds faster than the rest of the field, the Australian's impressive performance moved him up to fifth place overall. Francois Duval was second fastest and Gardemeister third. Petter Solberg was seventh fastest and ended the day in overall fourth. Once the rallying action of Leg one was complete, crews returned to Paparoa for an end-of-Leg 45-minute service.Fastest Stage Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 6:02.5

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg
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 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.

Team Principal, David Lapworth
We've finished the day in a stronger position than we'd expected. Running first on the road was always going to be a problem for Petter, but in fact he's done a great job, he's very pleased with the performance of the new car and is positive about the next couple of days. Chris has also had a very good day. He's taken advantage of his road position to set some very good times but more importantly, he's stuck to the plan and is learning a lot."

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager:
In today's difficult conditions, Petter Solberg did an excellent job to limit the certain disadvantage he had from running first on the road proving his own capabilities as well as those of our Pirelli KP tyres. Special congratulations must go to Chris as well on his excellent performance."

Technical Talk:

Solberg - The fastest road sweeper in New Zealand
Road sweeping, clean lines and road cleaning have been the hot topics of conversation during the first Leg of Rally New Zealand. Subaru Team Principal David Lapworth explains what it all means, and how the team has coped:

The stages of Rally New Zealand and Rally Australia are probably the most well known for road cleaning, but all gravel stages will clear, to some extent, if the surface is dry. The scale of the effect depends on the nature of the road surface. Most gravel roads have a hard-packed rock and stone base covered with a loose layer of gravel, sand and mud. Each passing car cleans off some of the top layer and exposes more of the hard surface underneath. The amount of loose material, and the grip level of the surface that is exposed, determine how much the surface improves.

In New Zealand today we've seen a lot of cleaning. After a long dry summer and on such well-made roads the base underneath is as hard and grippy as an asphalt road, while the loose top surface is quite thick. On Leg one we've seen that the first few cars sweep the road clean and lose a lot of time. Typically, the time lost is about 0.2 sec/km between the first two cars, and about 1 sec/km between the first and the 10th car.

The fact that the first and longest stage of the day was slightly damp certainly helped Petter. Overnight rain reduced the cleaning effect a little, as the hard surface that was exposed was slightly damp, and the cars following did not get such an advantage. This enabled Petter to take a slightly softer tyre compound, which gave him better grip and helped to compensate for his poor road position.

Tomorrow's Leg

Saturday 9 April 2005
Starts at 0900hrs when the first car will leave parc ferme. Leg two, the longest of the event, features 139.49 competitive kilometres and eight competitive stages, including two blasts around the 2.10km Super Special Stage at Manukau. The opening 18.92km stage from Wairere starts at 0923hrs.

-swrt-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team