The Subaru World Rally Team has two cars within the top ten at the end of the first leg. Petter Solberg holds sixth position, with team-mate Chris Atkinson in ninth spot. Petter and Chris had a tough morning and both drivers struggled to find grip...
The Subaru World Rally Team has two cars within the top ten at the end of the first leg. Petter Solberg holds sixth position, with team-mate Chris Atkinson in ninth spot. Petter and Chris had a tough morning and both drivers struggled to find grip on gravel roads made treacherous by heavy rain the previous night. As the weather brightened and the roads dried in the afternoon, so did the team's fortunes. Some set-up tweaks at first service improved the car and Petter was fourth fastest on stage four, the longest of the rally. Chris and Petter were respectively second and third quickest through the final stage of the day, the Mystery Creek Super Special.
SS1: 0933HRS PIRONGIA WEST 1 (20.38KM)
A tough start to Rally New Zealand for all the crews, because overnight
rain had left the roads on the fringes of Pirongia Forest Park extremely
wet and muddy. Running first on the road, Marcus Gronholm set the
quickest time, 5.9s ahead of his Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, despite
hitting a marker pole and knocking his steering out of alignment.
The two Subaru drivers suffered from a lack of grip, not helped by
a tyre choice that was made with the longer second stage in mind,
and proved too hard for the conditions on SS1. Petter Solberg's time
was 15m 51.2s, while Chris Atkinson completed the test in 16m 28.7s.
Atkinson also had a small spin early in the stage. Among the other
leading crews, Henning Solberg complained of hot water spraying into the
cockpit of his Peugeot 307 WRC. MotoGP ace Valentino Rossi, driving a
privately-entered Impreza WRC2005 for this rally, was extremely careful
in the difficult conditions and set a time of 17m 46.9s. Many drivers
found it particularly difficult in the technical section towards the end
of the stage.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 15m 09.7s
SS2: 1031HRS TE KORAHA 1 (43.88KM)
Plenty of mud on SS2, which took the crews south from Pirongia Forest
Park towards the Waitomo Caves. At the front, Gronholm continued to set
the pace on the longest stage of the rally, while Hirvonen consolidated
his second place ahead of Peugeot driver Manfred Stohl. Petter set the
fifth fastest time of 30m 23.1s, and was also fifth in the overall
standings. The Norwegian finished the stage with smoke pouring from the
right rear. A bent brake component had fouled the rear wheel, which
eventually wore through and punctured the tyre. Chris's time of 31m 06.9
moved him up to tenth place, but he said, "I'm still having to take it
a bit easy." Citroen's Dani Sordo held fourth place despite picking up
a left-rear puncture in the final few kilometres of the test. Prior to
the start of the stage, mechanical wizard Henning Solberg had carried
out repairs to his Peugeot and fixed his water leak. Xavier Pons was in
sixth position despite an overheating Citroen Xsara. Rossi was taking
things very steadily, but enjoying himself. He said the tough conditions
on this stage were, "just like getting to the airport at Bologna!"
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 29m 44.7s
SS3: 1450HRS PIRONGIA WEST 2 (20.38KM)
It was much drier for the second pass through Pirongia West, so much so
that the cars threw up trails of dust as they powered through the stage.
Despite the earlier wet conditions, rutting wasn't a major problem
because the base layer of the road is quite hard under the loose gravel.
Gronholm was again fastest through the stage, ahead of Hirvonen. Both
Subaru drivers were much closer to the pace, proving that the set-up
tweaks made at first service had improved the car. Petter's 15m 11.9s
effort was the seventh fastest through the stage, while Chris was ninth
quickest with a 15m 23.0s time and moved one place up the order to
ninth overall. Manfred Stohl held third in his Peugeot ahead of Sordo
and Pons. Further back, Rossi continued to play himself in steadily and
set 20th quickest time, even though he had a puncture during the stage.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 14m 53.6s
SS4: 1548HRS TE KORAHA 2 (43.88KM)
Second time through the longest stage of the rally, Petter had a much
stronger run and was fourth fastest. His 29m 19.4s effort meant he was
still within striking distance of Pons in the overall classification.
The Norwegian was happy with his pace through the fast sections, but
still felt he was losing a little time through the slow corners. Chris
sliced more than one minute off the time he set on his first run through
the stage, but said he was still searching for more grip. Gronholm and
Hirvonen continued to lead the rally. Manfred Stohl dropped time with
an off-road excursion, but just held on to third place ahead of Sordo.
Rossi was 20th fastest again and looked on course to achieve his goal
of getting to the end of leg one without problems. After the stage, the
remaining crews headed back towards the rally base at Mystery Creek
for the final stage of Rally New Zealand's opening leg.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 29m 10.2s
SS5: 1800HRS MYSTERY CREEK SUPER SPECIAL 1 (3.14KM)
The Subaru team ended the day strongly in front of a huge crowd: Chris
set the second fastest time through the short, tight stage which looped
around the rally service area, 0.4s behind Gronholm, and Petter was
half a second behind his Australian team-mate. Sordo moved ahead of
Stohl into third position, but Gronholm and Hirvonen continued to lead.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 2m 59.8s
SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM MANAGING DIRECTOR, RICHARD TAYLOR:
"The conditions today have been especially tricky, particularly this morning when the overnight rain made the roads very slippery. On the first loop of stages we misjudged the tyre choice which affected our times and the confidence of the drivers. This situation improved in the afternoon, particularly for Petter, and the drivers were able to set much more competitive times and be closer to the pace. Clearly, we still have some work to do on the car, but we are hopeful that we will see further improvement in our speed over the weekend and both cars will move up the leaderboard."
"The day improved as it went on, and the last two stages were better than when we ran them in the morning. We made some changes to the car at the midday service and on the high-speed sections of SS4 we were the fastest out there, but we're still losing time on the twisty sections, and that's what we need to concentrate on now. Tomorrow the character of the stages is a little bit different, hopefully they should suit us better, we'll have to see."
"We just haven't had the speed today, for whatever reason. We're working on that, but I don't feel confident to push so I'm not taking any risks and I'm just making sure I get through the stages. The car felt better in the afternoon but the conditions were very different, so it was difficult to compare and get any useful information. For tomorrow a lot will depend on the weather and our road position; if it's dry and we're first on the road then it'll be very tough, if it's wet then it should be better. We've given away a lot of time today, but we'll do all we can to improve our position tomorrow."
News from Pirelli
MARIO ISOLA, PIRELLI COMPETIZIONI RALLY MANAGER
"Certainly the road conditions this morning were very bad but the lack of performance early on is still a bit of a mystery; it is difficult to say now whether our tyre choice was the best one as there were many factors to consider. We will analyse today's performance to help is make the right choices for tomorrow - like Subaru we are hoping for a better day and a closer fight on the stages."
Leg two is based to the north west of Hamilton and comprises some fantastic stages along the coastal roads near the Tasman Sea. Some of the stunning scenery near SS6 was featured in the Lord of the Rings movies. There are six stages, including another run through the Mystery Creek Super Special. None of the stages are repeated, so road position could be crucial on this leg. After Friday's mixed conditions, heavy rain is forecast during Saturday.