Petter Solberg demonstrated his winning potential aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 today to take three stage wins and end Leg one in second position overall. Lying just 8.4 seconds off Sebastien Loeb's lead, the reigning World Champion is well ...
Petter Solberg demonstrated his winning potential aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 today to take three stage wins and end Leg one in second position overall. Lying just 8.4 seconds off Sebastien Loeb's lead, the reigning World Champion is well poised ahead to Legs two and three. Completing his first-ever full day of Wales Rally GB, his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen ended the day in overnight sixth. Overcoming a small engine problem early in the day, the young Finn gained in confidence and demonstrated his promising talent behind the wheel of his Impreza.
SS1: 1900 (Thurs) Cardiff Super Special 1 (2.45km)
The Cardiff dockland arena was the setting for an electrifying
start to Wales Rally GB as the world's leading drivers went head-to-head
on a floodlit, purpose-built course in the heart of the Welsh capital.
Cheered on by a crowd of more than five thousand spectators, crews
tackled a short, but testing, course that featured a water-splash, jump
and slippery gravel surface. Duval was fastest, with Loeb second, Martin
third and Solberg fourth. Mikko Hirvonen was eleventh, ending the stage
just 3.3 seconds behind the overall leader.
Fastest Stage Time: Duval (Ford) 2:06.5
SS2: 0713 Brechfa 1 (29.98km)
Following overnight rain, conditions were wet and muddy on the
first pass through the classic Welsh forest stage from Brechfa.
Presenting drivers with a mixture of fast straights and long cambered
corners, the tree-lined test became increasingly slippery as the leading
cars powered through and churned up mud for those following. First on
the road, Citroen's Sebastien Loeb was fastest by 5.7 seconds, with
Marcus Gronholm second and Markko Martin third. Last year's winner,
Petter Solberg was fourth fastest in his Subaru Impreza WRC2004, while
team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was eighth fastest to move up three positions
overall. Toni Gardemeister suffered a spin and was tenth fastest. After
the finish, crews completed the short 5.89km road section to the start
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 16:43.5
SS3: 0801 Trawscoed 1 (27.97km)
Contested in the same forest as the previous stage, conditions
through Trawscoed were once again extremely slippery with some muddy
corners. Including fewer flat-out straights and more narrow sections
than Brechfa, the test featured a surface change at the mid-point where
the hard-packed gravel surface became softer and muddier. Loeb was again
fastest, with Gronholm second and Solberg third. Although relieved to
have got through the stage that ended his last two attempts at Wales
Rally GB, it wasn't all plain sailing for Mikko Hirvonen as leaves and
mud restricted airflow through his car's radiator, causing the engine to
drop some power to keep cool. He was eighth fastest. Despite the
difficult conditions, none of the leading drivers were caught out by
Trawscoed's notorious tricky right hand turn 2km in and, after the
finish, crews moved to a 10-minute tyre change zone near Carmarthen.
Included to allow new tyres to be fitted to cars before the repeated
stages, crews were also permitted the assistance of two team members to
work on their cars.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 16:07.4
SS4: 1009 Brechfa 2 (29.98km)
As the light rain stopped and conditions brightened in the Welsh
forests, Marcus Gronholm was fastest on the second pass through the
Brechfa stage. Setting an average speed of 103.97kph, the Finn's time
was slower than Loeb's on SS2 as the forest track became rutted with
repeated use. Two times Wales Rally GB winner Petter Solberg was second
fastest, 0.1 seconds off the winning pace, while Loeb, no longer
benefiting from a clean road ahead of him, was third fastest. Hirvonen
continued to run with restricted power in his Impreza, but was eighth
fastest. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS5.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 17:18.1
SS5: 1057 Trawscoed 2 (27.97km)
Renowned as one of the classic stages of the event, the second
pass through Trawscoed presented crews with a mixture of rutted climbs,
descents, long cambered corners and tight hairpins though the forest.
Demonstrating the pace that won him the rally last year, Solberg was
fastest to take his first win of the event and shave almost seven
seconds from Loeb's rally lead. Having made some adjustments to the
damper settings on his Subaru before the start, Solberg declared himself
far happier with the feeling in his car. Gronholm was second fastest and
Loeb third. There were nervous moments for Martin when he exited a crest
into a ditch, veered across the road into another before ricocheting
back to the first. The Estonian managed to regain control of his Focus
and completed the stage fourth fastest, despite shattering his car's
windscreen and crossing the line with a large pine tree branch sticking
out from under the bonnet. At the finish there was no change to the
overall top eight, and crews returned to Felindre for a 20-minute
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 16:42.7
SS6: 1428 Rheola 1 (32.48km)
The longest stage of the event, the tricky test from Rheola, saw
crews drive uphill for 15km, before completing a fast section along the
top of a mountain high above the Neath Valley. The stage then descended
to Walters Arena, a huge spectator viewing area in the middle of the
Welsh forest, and concluded with a final 12km flat out descent to the
finish. Cheered on by hundreds of Norwegian supporters, Petter Solberg
was fastest in his Impreza to take another seven seconds from Loeb's
lead, move into second position overall and end the test with a twelve
second gap between himself and his French rival. Martin was second
fastest, and Loeb third. Making his debut as a works driver for Peugeot,
Daniel Carlsson left the road mid-test and broke the clutch of his 307
in his efforts to regain the stage. He was forced to retire, having been
in ninth position overall. Hirvonen was eighth fastest, ahead of Skoda's
Toni Gardemeister, and remained in the same position overall. After the
finish, crews returned to Felindre for another 20-minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 18:13.0
SS7: 1734 Rheola 2 (32.48km)
A classic Welsh forest stage, Petter Solberg relished the repeat
of the fast, wide test from Rheola and set an average speed of 105.97kph
to take his third consecutive win. He ended the stage 8.4 seconds off
Loeb's overall lead. His team-mate Mikko Hirvonen suffered a spin, but
was seventh fastest and moved up to sixth place overall. Gronholm was
second fastest, and Loeb third. Having been afflicted with gearbox
problems throughout the previous round of the Championship in Japan,
Harri Rovanpera encountered another transmission glitch on the day's
final test and was forced to complete the long 32km stage with third
gear only. He dropped almost three minutes to the leaders and fell to
eighth position overall. Ford's Duval suffered a brake problem and lost
a minute and a half, while Armin Schwarz rolled his Skoda off the stage
and out of the event. He had been in tenth position overall. After the
finish, the remaining crews returned to Felindre for a 45-minute
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 18:23.4
I'm really enjoying myself out on the stages now. I had a bit of a difficult start today with a damper adjustment problem, but once that was sorted the rally just got better and better. I love the stages here in Wales, and I've really enjoyed driving on them today, it's an incredible feeling when you get them just right. Now there's a good battle and this sort of competition is good for the motivation I can tell you. Sebastien and Marcus are both driving very well and I reckon we'll be fighting hard until Sunday - I really hope so.
Well, it's the first time I've made it to the end of Leg one in Wales, so for that reason alone I have to be happy! Sixth place at the end of Leg one is okay, but without the problems I had earlier in the day I know I could have been better, but they seem to have been sorted out now and I can concentrate on finding the rhythm for these roads.
Team Principal, David Lapworth
Another excellent performance from Petter, who has shown how well he can drive to a plan. Our strategy today was to start steadily, without taking any unnecessary risks, and then increase the pace gradually if necessary. Petter has followed this plan perfectly and is now in a very good position ahead of tomorrow's Leg. Without much experience of this event, and in some difficult conditions, Mikko has also performed well today. Overnight sixth place is encouraging and we're looking forward to seeing some more positive steps tomorrow.
News from Pirelli
, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
Petter was disadvantaged by his road position in this morning's conditions, which favoured the first car on the road. But, he was able to fight back with the help of his soft KM tyres, recovering the time he dropped almost completely and winning three stages.
Subaru and Wales Rally GB
Subaru has won seven of the last nine WRC Rally GBs. Like many of their SWRT predecessors, Wales Rally GB has become a special event for Petter Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills. The pair not only claimed their first WRC victory here in 2002, but also secured a consecutive win a year later, together with their first WRC Championship title. With such a strong record, how does the SWRT approach an event where expectations are so high? We spoke to Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth to find out more:
Q: In light of the teams track record here in Wales, do you approach Wales GB Rally differently other events?
DL: No. If you have a good track record on an event, it gives you confidence, but we don't treat it any differently. It's important to approach it as you would any other rally. The way you win is by getting the process right and focusing on what matters. That's putting on the right tyres and not making any mistakes. That's the only way. If you know you can win, it makes it easier, but success doesn't mean we change our approach!
Q: Why do you think the team does so well in Wales?
DL: One factor is that we have extra confidence coming here so we can concentrate on doing things the same way that we've always done them. We don't over stretch ourselves or build up too many expectations. Another reason is that the fact we've often had a top British driver in the team, which has given us an advantage on their home rally. I think we've always had the driver that you would choose to win the event. We had Richard Burns and Colin McRae in previous years and now we have Petter - he might not be British, but the crowd certainly seem to be behind him. Pirelli have been at their best in the Welsh conditions too, so everything comes together here. As a team we know the event well, the car is good on gravel and Pirelli tyres perform well in tricky, slippery conditions.
Q: Is there more pressure on you because the high expectations for the team in Wales?
DL: I'd say the pressure actually becomes less. Expectations on the outside may be high, but in terms of pressure I think it's easier when you know that you haven't got to do anything special. People have been expecting us to win this event for the last five years and it's not been a problem before. We've come here fighting for the Championship, been expected to win and we have. I think you get to a certain point where it isn't a special pressure at all, but the opposite. We've been in this position so many times, that we'll just do the same as we did last time.
Leg two of Wales Rally GB begins tomorrow at 0715hrs when the first car will leave the parc ferme at Felindre. Crews will contest a further eight stages and a total of 120.72 competitive kilometres. After two loops of a set of three stages, drivers will face the event's first pass through the long Margam stage, followed by a repeat of the Super Special in Cardiff. The first stage is scheduled to start at 0903hrs.