The Subaru World Rally Team experienced an up-and-down day, although both drivers showed flashes of pace after overnight set-up changes took the performance of the cars in the right direction. Chris Atkinson was the star of the morning and set two...
The Subaru World Rally Team experienced an up-and-down day, although both drivers showed flashes of pace after overnight set-up changes took the performance of the cars in the right direction. Chris Atkinson was the star of the morning and set two fastest stage times, but on the first of the afternoon's tests he collided with a rock and was forced into retirement. Petter Solberg, who was celebrating his 32nd birthday, finished the leg in sixth, but some quick times in the afternoon moved him to within striking distance of fifth-placed Xavier Pons.
SS6: 0923hrs Port Waikato (18.18km)
Both Subaru drivers made a bright start to leg two, despite difficult conditions. The expected rain hit as the crews negotiated the coastal test and visibility was restricted to 100m in places. Both drivers were helped by a tyre choice that suited the mixed conditions. Petter's 10m 31.3s effort was the fourth fastest through the stage, and Chris Atkinson was seventh quickest on 10m 33.5s, despite clipping a log at one point. The Australian moved up from ninth to eighth overall and he was in a more confident mood: "It's going better this morning. We made a small change to the car last night and I can definitely push harder now." Both Subaru drivers found it hard to hear their pace notes due to problems with their intercoms: not ideal on a stage where they were travelling flat-out in fifth or sixth gear for much of the time. At the head of the field, Finland's Marcus Gronholm continued to set the pace, despite choosing tyres that were too hard for the tricky conditions on the stage.
Fastest time: Marcus Gronholm (Ford) 10m 25.3s
SS7: 1001hrs Klondyke (13.88km)
As crews went into the narrowest stage of the event the rain persisted and some of the hilly sections of the route were shrouded in fog. Mud made the gravel tracks treacherous and, as Chris Atkinson explained, it was very hard to judge exactly how hard to push: "One moment it's quite fast and grippy, but then all of a sudden there's no grip at all." Despite the difficult conditions, Chris set the outright fastest time through the stage and his soft-compound Pirelli tyres proved the perfect choice. Although he remained eighth overall, he gained 21.8s on seventh-placed Henning Solberg. Petter had chosen a slightly harder tyre compound than Chris and, as the conditions deteriorated, he found he couldn't match the pace of his team-mate. Apart from that, the Norwegian had no problems to report and remained in sixth position overall with an 11m 54.0s effort. Gronholm was second fastest through the test behind Chris and extended his lead over Mikko Hirvonen to 41.9s.
Fastest time: Chris Atkinson (Subaru Impreza WRC2006) 11m 18.9s
SS8: 1034hrs Wairamarama (31.58km)
Subaru's Australian ace continued to fly as the crews attacked the first long stage of the day. Chris racked up another best stage time and was an impressive 19.5s quicker than the second-fastest driver, Xavier Pons. The 26-year-old edged closer to Henning Solberg in the overall standings. Petter set a time of 23m 12.5s and said he had two problems: a damaged wheel rim and then a broken front-left driveshaft about seven kilometres from the finish. Gronholm still led the rally from Hirvonen and all the crews were mightily relieved to be heading back to service after a difficult morning.
Fastest time: Atkinson (Subaru Impreza WRC2006) 22m 23.3s
SS9: 1518hrs Te Akau South (31.92km)
Chris's impressive charge came to a frustrating end when he was forced to retire from leg two on the first stage after the Mystery Creek service halt. About seven kilometres into the stage he hit a rock, which tore the front-left tyre from his car and caused him to slide off the road. Although the car didn't hit anything, the damage caused by the initial impact with the rock was too severe for him to carry on. Petter was fifth quickest through the stage, which was fairly dry in places and didn't suit the soft tyre compound he had chosen. His 19m 00.1s effort meant he held on to sixth position overall. Gronholm won the stage and extended his lead over Hirvonen to exactly 50s.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 18m 37.4s
SS10: 1601hrs Te Akau North (32.64km)
Petter's choice of soft Pirellis for the afternoon's loop of stages paid dividends when the rain returned on the second Te Akau test. The 32-year-old posted the third quickest time of 18m 14.8s. "Everything was better through this stage," said the Norwegian, who gained 15s on the fifth-placed Citroen of Xevi Pons. The gap to the Spaniard was now 45s. Petter's brother Henning Solberg rolled his Peugeot, but was able to continue. Valentino Rossi continued to impress and set the ninth-fastest time through the stage. Mikko Hirvonen won his first stage of the event, but trimmed just three-tenths of a second from the lead of team-mate Gronholm.
Fastest time: Mikko Hirvonen (Ford) 18m 08.2s
SS11: 1815hrs Mystery Creek Super Special 2 (3.14km)
Conditions were dry for the short run around Mystery Creek Event Centre that brought leg two of Rally New Zealand to a close. Petter ended the day by setting the eighth fastest time through the stage, a 3m 03.1s, but more importantly he only dropped one second to his main rival, Pons. Gronholm won his eighth stage of the event to maintain his healthy advantage over Hirvonen, while Manfred Stohl consolidated third position after a day-long scrap with Sordo, Looking increasingly at home in his privately-entered Impreza WRC2005, Rossi was seventh quickest through the final stage of the day. That left him 13th overall and he said he was happy with his progress: "I had a much better feeling with the car today."
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 2m 59.5s
Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, Richard Taylor:
"It's been a very mixed day for us. We were pleased this morning to see Chris set two fastest stage times. Clearly the small changes we made to the set-up, along with a tyre choice which was perfect for the conditions, made a big difference. Then this afternoon Chris seems to have paid a heavy price for a small mistake, and unfortunately damage to a small section of the roll cage means he will not be able to restart tomorrow. Petter has had a steady day but although his pace improved in the afternoon, and he set the third-fastest time on the penultimate stage, he hasn't been able to move up the leaderboard as we'd hoped. Tomorrow we will continue to work with Petter to improve our performance."
"It's been quite tough for us, with a few problems in the morning and tyre choices that didn't turn out to be the best for the variable conditions. There are some positives though, the car felt better to drive today -- even without the right tyres -- and as the roads were less twisty than yesterday the car worked better and we were able to be more competitive. But we still need more traction, that's the main thing. Tomorrow we'll try some new things and you can be sure that I'll push as hard as I can."
"We were trying to push on after some good fastest stage times this morning when an open wheel just caught a rock over a blind crest and took the tyre off. It was just one of those rallying incidents; I think everyone else would have hit it if they had been in my position -- they were all swerving to avoid it when we were warning them. It wasn't our rally anyway, so I'm not going to get too disheartened. In fact, up to that point today things had been pretty encouraging; the car was working a lot better, we could push more and I was really enjoying myself, it's nice to be able to do that."
News from Pirelli
Mario Isola, Pirelli Competizioni Rally Manager
"Today the drivers used our P Zero K-series tyres which were especially developed for rainy conditions, and on today's extremely wet and difficult roads they worked very well. It is unfortunate that the drivers were not able to get a good finishing position tonight but the performance shown, and the fact that Chris was able to win two stages, proves the competitiveness of our tyres in these conditions."
For Sunday's final leg of Rally New Zealand, the crews head due west from rally headquarters towards the coast. The action consists of two loops of three stages. The first test of the day, Maungatawhiri, is short and very fast, but Te Hutewai is a more traditional Kiwi special stage and features lots of flowing medium-speed bends and corners hidden over crests. Fittingly, the rally ends with a run through the famous 29km Whaanga Coast section.