An excellent day for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. With both Pirelli-shod Subaru Impreza WRC2003s proving 100 per cent reliable, Petter Solberg and Tommi MÃ¤kinen ended the day in overnight first and third position respectively. Having been ...
An excellent day for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. With both Pirelli-shod Subaru Impreza WRC2003s proving 100 per cent reliable, Petter Solberg and Tommi Mäkinen ended the day in overnight first and third position respectively. Having been locked in a thrilling duel with Sebastien Loeb for the lead, Petter Solberg clinched four stage wins, and will start tomorrow well-placed in the battle for both the rally victory and the 2003 World Rally Championship Drivers' title. His team-mate Tommi Mäkinen set consistently good times and on his last outing with the Subaru team is determined to finish on a high.
SS1 1930hrs (Thursday) Cardiff Super Special 1 (2.45km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 2:08.7
Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan flagged the leaders away on the decisive round of the 2003 World Rally Championship on Thursday evening. An enthusiastic crowd of around 10,000 applauded the three world title contenders and their rivals, as they set off for Cardiff's historic docks and the opening stage's spectacular action. With crews going head-to-head through the 2.45km purpose built super special, Subaru's Petter Solberg was fastest, with Markko Martin second, and Tommi Mäkinen and Marcus Gronholm tying third. There were no retirements on the opening test, but Gilles Panizzi lost a little time when his car hit the armco barrier under the bridge.
SS2 0751hrs Brechfa (23.12km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 13:19.6
Answering Solberg's blast round last night's super special, title contender Sebastien Loeb set the pace from the outset this morning and charged through the first proper test of the event to take the stage win. But hot-on-his-heels was the blue Subaru of Petter Solberg. Setting up what promised to be a thrilling opening Leg battle, the Norwegian was second fastest, and at the finish 1.3 seconds separated the pair. Markko Martin was third fastest, despite his Focus suffering an overheating engine, while Marcus Gronholm was fourth quickest. There were nervous moments for Citroen's Carlos Sainz when he was delayed by eleven minutes at the start of the test due to a problem with an in-board camera unit. He completed the stage, and was fifth fastest. A mixture of fast straights and long cambered corners with a twisty section at the end, the muddy, stone-based 23km test saw no retirements and after the finish crews travelled 5.88km to the start of SS3.
SS3 0830hrs Trawscoed (27.97km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 16:23.4
Disaster for Carlos Sainz on the second test of the day. Entering a third-gear corner in sixth-gear, the Spaniard slid his Citroen Xsara off the road, bringing both his event and chances of clinching a third World title, to an end. Despite holding 63 points in the Drivers' Championship - equal with team-mate Sebastien Loeb - it would be the Frenchman that would take the title in a tie-break situation, even if he later retired. Ford's young gun Mikko Hirvonen was next to fall foul of the slippery conditions when he skidded his Focus off the road and out of the rally 17km from the start. Current World Champion Marcus Gronholm dropped more than 13 minutes after he hit a tree stump and damaged his 206's steering. He completed the test, but was forced to retire when police prevented him from driving the 63km liaison section back to service. As early morning autumn sunshine caused visibility problems for the leading drivers, Loeb was fastest, with Solberg again tucked right behind for second and Martin, third. Contesting his last event as a full time WRC driver, Solberg's team-mate Tommi Mäkinen was fourth fastest. After the finish, crews returned to Felindre service for the second scheduled service of the day.
SS4 1120hrs Rheola 1 (32.58km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 17:58.6
As Solberg and Loeb continued to tussle for the overall lead and realise their Championship hopes, this time Solberg was fastest, to make it two stage wins apiece for the duelling pair. Finishing 8.5 seconds faster than his rival, the Norwegian snatched the overall lead and ended the test with a 4.7 second advantage. Makinen was third fastest, demonstrating the competitive pace of the Subaru / Pirelli combination on the slippery, difficult conditions, and McRae was fourth. Ford's Markko Martin failed to even make the start. Having left service on time, the engine in his Focus continued to overheat, leaving the Estonian with no option but to pull over on the road section, and retire from the rally. Problems also for Skoda's Toni Gardemeister. The Finn collected a 2 minute 10 second penalty for leaving the preceding service 13 minutes late, after mechanics used extra time to replace his Fabia's starter motor.
SS5 1238hrs Resolfen 1 (43.09km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 22:40.9
As competitors made the first pass through the long Resolfen test, Solberg and Loeb were in a class of their own. Finishing 18.8 seconds clear of the rest of the field, it was Solberg that had the edge and, despite clipping a telegraph pole with the rear of his Subaru, the Norwegian was fastest to take his third win of the event. Loeb was 3.1 seconds slower for second, while Subaru's Tommi Mäkinen was third. Clearly enjoying the test's myriad of slippery corners and numerous surface changes, the Finn set a time faster than Colin McRae, Harri Rovanpera and Gilles Panizzi. Although conditions remained dry, the stage became increasingly slippery for those further down the order, as more cars passed over the hard-based track and 'polished' the shale surface. Ford's Duval struggled with an oil leak in his gearbox, but there were no leading retirements, and after the finish, cars returned to Felindre for the third service of the day.
SS6 1548hrs Rheola 2 (32.58km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 17:50.9
The final 'proper' stage of the day, but there was still plenty of action for the crowds that lined the route and flooded the purpose-built viewing area near the test's central section. Despite setting the most competitive split times through the first 28 kilometres, Solberg collected a puncture in the final section and finished second fastest, 1.6 seconds behind Loeb. After 161.79 kilometres, only 6.2 seconds separated the pair and with 12 more stages to run, their gripping battle for the Drivers' crown looked set to go right to the wire. McRae was third and Mäkinen fourth. Contesting his first WRC event since Australia earlier this year, Peugeot driver Harri Rovanpera was fifth fastest, with new team-mate Freddy Loix next to round off the top six. Taking crews high above the valleys, through a water splash and round a variety of difficult, slippery corners, the route presented drivers with drier, looser conditions than the first pass through. After the finish, crews returned to Felindre for a 45-minute service.
SS7 1932hrs Cardiff Super Special 2 (2.45km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 2:06.4
Thousands of spectators once again created an electrifying atmosphere as the drivers returned to the floodlit super special in Cardiff. Including a jump and a water splash, Solberg revelled in its twisty turns to take the win, while Mäkinen was second, to make it a Subaru 1-2, and McRae was third.
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "We predicted some drama for today and our strategy was not to be a part of it. Petter has done a fantastic job. He's kept ahead of Sebastien and things seem to be going exactly according to plan. Tommi too has enjoyed a great run and its good to see him on the Leg one podium. Both drivers are anticipating a tough, but enjoyable fight tomorrow and are looking forward to it. The lesson from today is that the rally is living up to its reputation for drama and we'll be bearing that in mind tomorrow."
Petter Solberg: "It's been a good day, a very good day. I've been taking things steady, and the conditions have been difficult. I've had a good fight with Sebastien and I think it's going to stay that way for the rest of the rally. You can never afford to be too happy on the first day, there are two more to come and it's a long way to go. But, for me, it couldn't really have ended better today."
Tommi Mäkinen: "It's been good, an enjoyable day. We've experimented a little with tyres, but we have a set up that is good. I had to avoid some big rocks pulled out by the leading cars on the final stages, but it wasn't so bad. The plan for tomorrow is to keep Colin behind and to go flat out. I'm enjoying my driving today and I'm hoping to do more of the same tomorrow."
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "We've been very pleased with the performance with the Pirelli PZero gravel rally tyres today. This performance has been endorsed by both Petter and Tommi holding podium positions at the end of Leg 1. Both drivers selected the Pirelli PZero KM6 gravel rally tyre, which were well suited to today's changeable conditions, which found forest track altering between both damp and dry conditions. Tomorrow's weather is forecast to be the same as today, and we hope for a continued excellent performance."
Team Quotes - World Rally Legend, Tommi Mäkinen
Q: What's Tommi like to work with?
* Petter Solberg: "He's the most professional driver I've ever worked with. Despite being four-times World Champion, he's a very balanced and nice guy. He's always shared his rallying experience with me and I've learnt so much from him over the last couple of years. I never thought he was like that at all before I knew him! I can just look at him to learn."
* Lorraine Glaister, Catering Manager: "Tommi's actually quite shy, although Petter's really brought him out of his shell, the pair of them are always laughing together, especially on the recces when things are more relaxed. He absolutely loves liquorice - he could eat a bowl of allsorts during one service! He's always very polite."
* Pasi Hagstrom, Gravel Crew and Test Driver: "Working with Tommi has been fantastic. He's very honest and straightforward, so things are very easy with him, there's no messing around. I've learnt so much from him because of that. He's very open, and always tells it like it is."
* Toshi Azuma, General Manager Subaru PR/Marketing: "Working with Tommi has been a lot of fun and he's one of the most popular drivers in Japan. He's a reluctant star, but once you get to know him he's a great guy and we're going to miss him in Japan a lot."
* Colin Clark, Commercial Manager: "Tommi is very amiable, very willing to work both on the driving side and from a marketing aspect. He's shown himself to be comfortable with the promotional side of things, happy working with the team's partners and embracing his role as an ambassador for Subaru."
* Keith Taylor, Tommi's No. 1 Mechanic: "I first worked with Tommi back in 1993 when we were both at Nissan, and to be back in the same team again is very special. Not many people have the chance to work with one of their heroes."
* Paul Howarth, Team Manager: "Tommi likes things how he likes them, he wants things done to the highest standard, and that's how we work at Subaru. Throughout the last six months, Tommi's been very relaxed and has played a great role in supporting Petter. I believe one of the reasons Petter is where he is now is because of his relationship with Tommi."
Q: What makes Tommi so special as a driver?
* David Lapworth, Team Principal: "The statistics of Tommi's hugely successful career speak for themselves, and some of the performances he's put in during his time at the top are among the all-time classics. The number of wins he's achieved, compared to second and third places, is completely out of proportion to any other driver and that says what Tommi is all about, he's a winner."
* Michael Zotos, Tommi's Engineer: "Tommi has an absolutely incredible memory - better than any other driver I've worked with. It's unbelievable how he can remember the smallest details, like settings we changed three or four months ago on the car. He can tell you what we changed and by how much, without referring back to any notes. He's also very down to earth - not affected by his success at all, and I admire that a great deal."
* Toshi Azuma, General Manager, Subaru PR/Marketing: "Tommi is a quick, very spectacular driver, but also a very professional one. He shows respect, and my first impression was that he didn't behave like I thought a four-times World Champion would. He never talks down to anyone. I respect this side of his character and, of course, the work he has done to support and coach Petter."
* Matt Finney, Transmission Technician: "Tommi has delivered some amazing stage times during his career. I remember last year in Kenya when he set a time a minute faster than everyone else - he was completely in a class of his own. He can be very, very fast. Whenever we're in service and Tommi talks, everyone always just stops and listens to what he has to say - we all know that he's a legend."
* Paul Howarth, Team Manager: "He's a man of experience. He's got so much experience in the Championship - especially from a competitive level. He's won on every surface and on practically every event in the Championship. He's got an in-depth knowledge and has always known what he wanted to achieve. We're going to miss him."
Leg two of the final round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship begins tomorrow at 0500hrs when the first car will leave the Cardiff parc ferme and travel 70.61 km to Felindre, for the first scheduled service. Crews will contest a further seven stages (two repeated), to the northeast of Welsh capital and 138.71 competitive kilometres. The Leg will conclude with a final blast round the 2.45km Cardiff Super Special.