After the first day of competition on Wales Rally GB, Subaru's Petter Solberg holds second place overall, less than 10 seconds off the lead. Solberg enjoyed a trouble-free run on the Leg's six stages and set the second fastest stage time on both...
After the first day of competition on Wales Rally GB, Subaru's Petter Solberg holds second place overall, less than 10 seconds off the lead. Solberg enjoyed a trouble-free run on the Leg's six stages and set the second fastest stage time on both runs through the challenging 27km stage at Rheola. On their Wales Rally GB debuts, Chris Atkinson and Stephane Sarrazin both followed their individual objectives perfectly and delivered solid performances on the tricky and unfamiliar Welsh roads. Both are looking to increase their pace as they become more familiar with the conditions over the next two days.
SS1: 0758 Brechfa 1 (22.00km)
Wales Rally GB kicked off on the classic Brechfa forest stage in
rural Carmarthenshire, approximately 50km north west of the Felindre
service area. The soil-based route took crews through a mixture of fast
straights and long cambered corners lined with overhanging trees.
Although a sunny and crisp morning, conditions on the stage were damp
with some very muddy sections after earlier torrential rain. Rallye
Deutschland winner Sebastien Loeb was first on the road, with Peugeot's
Marcus Gronholm second, the Finn coming through nearly five seconds
faster than second-quickest Loeb. 2004 winner Petter Solberg, starting
third on the road, was third fastest in his Subaru Impreza WRC2005, five
seconds slower than Gronholm, but nearly 15 seconds faster than
fourth-quickest Harri Rovanpera. Skoda's Armin Schwarz was slow through
the stage after a spin and a faulty intercom, and finished nearly one
and a half minutes behind Gronholm. Subaru's Chris Atkinson was fifth
fastest through his first-ever competitive stage in Rally GB.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 12:40.2
SS2 0836hrs Trawscoed 1 (18.56km)
After SS1 crews made the short six kilometre drive to the
18.56km Trawscoed stage, set in the same forest as the preceding
Brechfa. The first pass through the narrow and twisty route was
exceptionally slippery, with crews battling to find a clean line through
the mud. Mitsubishi's Rovanpera was fastest, three seconds quicker than
Loeb and Solberg, who both set identical times. The Norwegian had a
half-spin midway through the stage and had to reverse to restart, but
lost only 12sec in the incident to maintain a 0.8sec gap from Loeb in
the overall classification. Stage one victor Gronholm fell way down the
overall order to 19th after negotiating the stage without brakes
following a brake fluid leak.
Fastest Stage Time: Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) 11:24.2
SS3 1041hrs Rheola 1 (27.81km)
Totally different in character and much faster and open than the
earlier Brechfa and Trawscoed, Rheola ran through the scenic Neath
valley to the east of Swansea. The stage was shortened for 2005, but
still included the celebrated fast run across the top of a mountain and
descent into Walters Arena, a huge spectator area set in the middle of
the forest. With more than 68 competitive kilometres in drying
conditions, some crews reported high tyre wear. Loeb and Solberg
continued their duel for the lead with the first and second quickest
times respectively and the Frenchman extended his lead to ten seconds.
The overall leaderboard saw several changes as Gronholm started his
climb back up the order, while his team mate Martin advanced from eighth
to sixth overall. Citroen's Francois Duval was fourth fastest to move
into fourth overall ahead of Subaru's Australian driver Atkinson. Colin
McRae, contesting his first WRC event in 18 months, jumped from 15th to
ninth. Schwarz' torrid morning continued with a spin in the final
stretch of the stage, but he managed to continue to the finish with
damage to the front left bumper and a shredded tyre. The German's
problems caused him to drop 1m39sec from Loeb's winning stage time.
After the stage crews returned to Felindre for a 30-minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 15:19.5
SS4 1342hrs Brechfa 2 (22.0km)
The first stage after service took place under sunny skies and
with temperatures rising steadily. The road had dried considerably since
the first run, and many drivers were left rueing the choice of softer
tyres, including WRC championship leader Loeb. The Citroen driver
nevertheless set the fastest time through the speed test, over 28
seconds quicker than his morning time. Loeb's lead, however, was cut
when he collected a ten second penalty for accidentally checking out of
service one minute late. Gronholm took advantage of the 30-minute
service to repair the brake problems that hampered his earlier runs and
moved back into the overall top ten by setting the second fastest time.
Subaru's Atkinson showed well, setting a time only three seconds slower
than team mate Solberg to edge closer to Duval in fourth place on the
leaderboard. Ford's Toni Gardemeister also moved up the classification
to sixth ahead of Estonian Martin.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 12:16.2
SS5 1420hrs Trawscoed 2 (18.56km)
The re-run of Trawscoed gave Gronholm his second stage win of
the day and his time was quick enough for him to edge ahead of fellow
Finn Toni Gardemeister into sixth overall. Loeb, chasing his ninth win
of the year, was second fastest ahead of Rovanpera and the Solberg
brothers, Petter seven seconds quicker than Henning. The dry conditions
produced a very quick road, with the fastest drivers setting an average
speed of more than 100kph.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 10:53.6
SS6 1625hrs Rheola 2 (27.81km)
Having selected a relatively hard tyre compound for the
afternoon stages, Petter Solberg was able to push on the final stage of
the day. His time through the 27km Rheola stage was five seconds faster
than his French rival and Solberg closed the gap to the top spot. Marcus
Gronholm took his second consecutive stage win to vault ahead of both
Atkinson and Duval to fourth overall. The Finn ended the Leg 40 seconds
behind third-placed Rovanpera, who finished the stage with the fourth
quickest time. Chris Atkinson's gamble of a softer tyre lost him time on
the final stage as excessive wear eventually caused a puncture on the
front right wheel four kilometres from the finish line. He made it to
the end of the stage and held on to sixth place overall, but Henning
Solberg took advantage to close the gap from seventh to 0.6sec. Subaru's
Stephane Sarrazin gathered valuable experience on his first gravel rally
since Greece in June, and finished the Leg in 18th overall.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 15:09.8
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth
We have to be happy with our positions at the end of the day. Petter is nine seconds off the lead and has had a trouble free run. We're sure he can take the fight to Sebastien tomorrow. Chris and Stephane have both done an excellent job. They are exactly on the pace we hoped for and both in strong positions. After such a solid start on a tricky first day, we're really expecting great things from them tomorrow when the conditions will be more predicable for the more inexperienced drivers.
Not too bad at all. Of course, I'd prefer to be leading but the car is going well, all the set-up changes we've made are taking it in the right direction and I'd say that we've gone better today than on any of the other gravel rallies this year. The first three stages went very well except for a spin on the second and for the repeated loop we took a chance on a tyre choice that in hindsight was too hard. Although we were able to take time out of Loeb on the last stage of the day, we gave up too much on the first two. Phil and I have enjoyed a good fight with Sebastien today, and Marcus is pushing hard too, so I expect things are going to be pretty exciting tomorrow. I'm going to have to work very hard to win this rally, but I'll certainly give it my best shot.
It's been a good day for us. I'm pretty pleased with sixth place overall on my first ever day of Rally GB. But my main objective continues to be learning more about the event and that's what I'll be doing tomorrow on another set of stages that are new to me. Hopefully though I can step up the pace a little more as the weekend goes on.
Yes, it's been a good first day. My road position wasn't great, there were a lot of ruts in the road, but we're in good shape ahead of the next two days. Now, looking back at my performance on some of the first stages, I think I could have been quicker, I just wasn't pushing enough. But the important thing is that the speed is getting better and more comfortable.
News From Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
It's been a fantastic battle at the front, with the end result that there are only ten seconds in it. Petter has an exemplary record at this event and we are doing our best to give him the equipment to make it four wins in a row. Today has seen a wide variety of stage conditions but our tyres have proved themselves capable of fighting for the lead on all of them.
Norway and Wales. A much tighter link than you might think! Petter Solberg and Phil Mills are not the only Norwegian-Welsh partnership in town. Perched on the Cardiff docks is the Norwegian Church, one of Cardiff's most scenic, and more unusual, landmarks. In a happy coincidence, this year Norway is celebrating its 100th year as an independent nation in the same year that Cardiff marks its centenary as a city. The Subaru duo dropped by before Wales Rally GB's ceremonial start with their Subaru Impreza WRC2005. If you didn't know there was a Norwegian Church in Cardiff, here are some handy facts for you:
The church was originally built and consecrated in December 1869 in the Bute West Dock. It was founded by the Norwegian Seamen's Mission as a home-from-home for Norwegian sailors making the tough journey to bring coal across to Wales for export
The church fell into disrepair in the mid-1970s when the export of coal from Cardiff Docks declined, and the building was slated for demolition to make way for the access road to the Atlantic Wharf. A collaboration between the Norwegian Preservation Trust, the Norwegian Support Committee and the church's own trust raised £250,000 to dismantle and re-erect the church on its present site on Harbour Drive in 1987
The church was rechristened as the Norwegian Church Arts and Crafts Centre and now sits at the far end of the Cardiff docks. 180,000 tourists and locals come to the church each year - that's almost three times the number of people who watched the Superspecial in Greece!
Roald Dahl was baptized in the church in 1916 after his father emigrated from Norway to settle in Cardiff. Dahl's book 'Boy' makes reference to his time spent at the church, and Dahl always held the place in high esteem. In fact, he was the first President of the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust until his death in 1990
Petter Solberg is no stranger to Cardiff and enjoyed his trip to the church. "It's strange to see something so traditionally Norwegian in the middle of Cardiff. It is a beautiful place on the bay, very peaceful. I'm glad to know that Phil and I are not quite so unusual now in our Welsh-Norwegian link. We've worked very well together so far, and it's good that another Welsh-Norwegian partnership is successful too."
Cars leave Felindre Parc Fermé from 0900hrs for a ten minute service before heading to the National Park area of the Brecon Beacons. Leg two features seven more stages and 103 competitive kilometres through the Welsh forests, including Crychan, nicknamed 'the orange road' because of the pine needles that cover the route. The new-for-2005 Superspecial also takes place on Saturday in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. The stage will be first in the history of the WRC to be run indoors.