555 Subaru driver, Petter Solberg dominated Leg two. Delivering a steadfast performance aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC, the Norwegian held his nerve and was quickest on every stage to increase his overnight lead and end the day 41.2 seconds ahead...
555 Subaru driver, Petter Solberg dominated Leg two. Delivering a steadfast performance aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC, the Norwegian held his nerve and was quickest on every stage to increase his overnight lead and end the day 41.2 seconds ahead of rival, Sebastien Loeb. With 73.86km remaining, the Subaru star is well positioned ahead of the concluding stages of the 2003 World Rally Drivers' Championship. Locked in a close battle for overall third, his team-mate Tommi Makinen set a string of top four times. Contesting his last event as a full time WRC driver, he is looking good for a podium finish.
SS8 0747hrs Crychan 1 (13.05km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 7:10.6
Trouble for Peugeot and Skoda on the first stage of Leg two. As crews made the long 67km liaison journey to the start of the dry Crychan test, Gilles Panizzi's event ended when a transmission problem in his Bozian Racing Team 206 forced him to retire. He had been in sixth place overall. Problems also for Skoda. Following yesterday's frustrations, transmission problems saw Toni Gardemeister arrive 10 minutes late to the start line and collect a 1m 40s time penalty, which increased the total he had accumulated on the event to 4m 30s. Contesting the stage with a broken front differential and an inoperative clutch, the Finn crawled over the finish in his Fabia with it's hazard lights flashing, while his team-mate Didier Auriol spun his Fabia into a ditch and lost over two minutes waiting for spectators to push him back onto the road. Looking to the leaders, top man Subaru's Petter Solberg was quickest to extend his lead over Championship rival Sebastien Loeb to 12 seconds. Loeb was second fastest and McRae, happy with the amended brake settings on his Xsara, third. After the finish crews travelled straight to the start of SS9.
SS9 0814hrs Halfway 1 (18.53km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 10:15.7
Despite the slippery conditions, there were no repeats of the drama witnessed on last year's pass through Halfway when a number of leading WRC drivers were caught out by the infamous 'Deers Leap' jump. Renowned as one of the classic stages of the event, it presented crews with a difficult mix of classic forest tracks run through a military range, asphalt roads and a series of fast sweeping gravel tracks across open moorland. Demonstrating the exceptional pace that made him last year's winner, Petter Solberg stormed through to take another win and increase his overall lead by a further 2.7 seconds. Loeb was second quickest, despite complaining of insufficient grip due to a tyre choice he felt was too hard, while Subaru's Makinen was third. After a re-group and fuel stop close to the end of the stage, crews made their way directly to the start of SS10.
SS10 1027hrs Crychan 2 (13.05km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 7:08.0
The second pass through a slightly damper Crychan saw Petter Solberg scoop his third consecutive win of the day, while Championship contender Sebastien Loeb was third fastest, 5.7 seconds off the Norwegian's pace. Running on Pirelli tyres, the winning choice on six of the last eight WRC rally GB's, Solberg's team-mate Makinen was fourth fastest. Locked in a battle for overall third with McRae, the Finn maintained excellent traction through the slippery test to shave 2.3 seconds off his time set in SS8 and finish ahead of Loix and Duval. Colin McRae was second fastest and at the finish 8.6 seconds separated the pair. Continuing to struggle with his Fabia's differential problems, Gardemeister dropped another 45 seconds to the leaders, while Rovanpera was seventh, commenting that his early morning tyre selection had been incorrect. Once the stage was complete, crews moved to the start of SS11.
SS11 1054hrs Halfway 2 (18.53km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 10:11.0
Conditions were more slippery on the second pass through Halfway as the leading cars swept the loose, dry surface, exposing a wetter, muddier layer underneath. Despite running fifteenth on the road, Solberg was again fastest to clinch his eighth stage win of the event and extend his overall lead to 24.7 seconds. Fellow title hopeful Sebastien Loeb was second fastest, with Makinen third. Wearing a pair of embroidered golden boots to commemorate his final event as a full-time WRC driver, the four-times World Champion increased his lead over McRae to 11.8 seconds. Francois Duval was fifth fastest in his Focus, ahead of Peugeot drivers Harri Rovanpera and Freddy Loix. Roman Kresta stalled his Bozian Racing 206 on the start line, and finished in ninth position overall. After the finish, crews returned to Felindre for a service.
SS12 1313hrs Margam Forest (17.37km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 9:57.7
After the four tests north of Swansea, SS12 saw crews move south to Margam Park. Subaru's Solberg again took the stage win, but by the narrowest of margins. Continuing his close battle with Loeb, the pair were neck and neck through the first split, but as the pressure mounted it was Solberg who had the edge, and he stopped the clock first to take his 44th stage win of the year -- by 0.1 seconds. McRae was third fastest, with Makinen, running on a softer tyre compound than his team-mate, just behind in fourth. Rovanpera was fifth fastest, while his new team-mate Freddy Loix, who was using the event to learn about the Peugeot 206 and gain experience ahead of next year, was tenth. Although regarded as the trickiest test of the event by Solberg's co-driver Phil Mills, there were no leading retirements, and after the finish crews travelled the short 0.37km liaison distance to the start of SS13.
SS13 1346hrs Margam Park 1 (12.64km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 7:08.8
No change to the top eight on the first pass through the short Margam Park test. Petter Solberg continued his charge and demonstrated the Impreza's competitiveness on the slippery, Welsh terrain by notching up his sixth consecutive win of the day, with Tommi Makinen, the man with the golden boots, second. Negotiating the test's two purpose-built jumps and mixture of asphalt and gravel roads in front of the picturesque Margam house, McRae was 0.3 seconds slower than the Finn for third. Loeb was fourth fastest, 6.5 seconds slower than Solberg, and admitted that the pressure was beginning to affect his driving speed. After the finish crews returned to Felindre for a service.
SS14 1532hrs Resolfen 2 (43.09km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 22:21.3
As the daylight began to fade, there were anxious moments for the event leader on the longest stage of the day when he hit a huge hole in the road, 1 km from the start line. But, despite collecting some damage to the steering and suspension of his Subaru, a strong-minded Solberg pushed on and finished 9.5 seconds clear of the rest of the field. Loeb was second fastest and McRae third. After the finish, the Norwegian title contender was relieved to return to Felindre for a service before making the 78.32km journey east to Cardiff for the final blast round the Super Special in Cardiff.
SS15 1938hrs Cardiff Super Special 3 (2.45km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 2:05.1
The third and final run through the head-to-head Super Special based at the historic Cardiff docks brought more close racing from the WRC drivers. In front of an estimated 10,000 spectators, Solberg was fastest to clinch another stage win, while Loeb was second. McRae was third, giving the British fans plenty to cheer about. The Super Special result meant that Solberg kept the overall lead of the rally, and will start tomorrow 41.2 seconds ahead of Loeb.
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "It's been a brilliant day from Petter. We hoped that he could slowly increase his lead today, without taking too many risks, and that's exactly what he's done. We've been feeding him split times through the stages and he's done a brilliant job of controlling his speed. On his last event with the team, it's great to see Tommi enjoying his scrap with Colin. But, Tommi has had a major part to play in Petter's success today too. He has sacrificed some of his stage times to evaluate the performance of some of our other Pirelli tyre options in these conditions, and the information that he's helped us gather will undoubtedly help us on tomorrow's final stages. Overall, the plan from here is to carry on in the same mode, for Petter to continue to build a time cushion without taking risks and for Tommi to do the same and finish on the podium."
Petter Solberg: "I'm feeling good, but for sure it's been a hard day. It's worked out really well. My lead didn't look so sure before the second to last stage (SS14), and I thought that would be a good opportunity for Sebastien to gain some time -- so I planned a big attack. But then, 1 km from the start on a small left hand corner, I hit a huge hole in the road. It went bang, and I tell you I thought that was it. The steering was bent and the suspension had taken a big knock, but I just kept on going even though I thought that something would break quite quickly. But, it didn't and when the splits came through, I was still in front. I've been extremely lucky. Tomorrow, I still can't afford to take things easy, but I'm actually feeling quite calm. I think I'm driving at about 90 per cent, so I do have more in reserve; I'm trying not to think too much about the finish. I spoke to Fred Gallagher today and he gave me some good advice, to relax and have fun driving, and I'm just concentrating on doing that."
Tommi Makinen: "For me, there were no problems whatsoever today. We tried some different tyres in the morning and the afternoon, but in the end we went back to our original settings and I'm very happy with that. I think that's what we are going to use tomorrow if the conditions stay the same. For sure it's going to be a big fight tomorrow with Colin, but I'm really enjoying myself in the car and I'm going to be driving flat out -- no question."
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "As yesterday's forecast predicted, we have experienced dry conditions as in Leg one. Both Tommi and Petter chose to remain with the Pirelli KM6 gravel rally tyre, with Tommi selecting a different evolution on a couple of occasions. We're delighted with today's performance, with the combination of Petter, Subaru and Pirelli showing their dominance and winning all of the stages. Tomorrow we hope for a good finish."
Technical Talk - Keeping agile in the forests
After a trio of Mediterranean asphalt rallies, this weekend's final round of the season takes teams back to the rough stuff and the gravel roads of the Welsh forests. The switch of terrain from sealed-surface to gravel requires a different cornering style from drivers and a different handling set-up from the engineers who help prepare their vehicles. We spoke to Tommi's engineer, Michael Zotos, to find out more:
"Most of the differences between a gravel and asphalt set-up are determined by the different cornering techniques used on the stages. On a loose surface like GB, Tommi is looking for a set-up that allows him to control the rear-end of the car and adjust the yaw angle as the car drifts round.
The suspension on the Impreza is infinitely adjustable, and we spend a lot of time testing front and rear geometry, toe and camber settings. The idea is that as the back end of the car slides around most of Tommi's efforts to control the angle and direction are make by balancing the throttle and brakes. When it's set up well, there's not actually a lot of steering input during the corner, the driver only really uses the wheel to correct the line and fine-tune the slide.
On asphalt though things are very different. Quite apart from a lower ride height, we adjust the car to give it very different cornering characteristics to suit the required driving style. In asphalt trim the car is set up to be extremely agile and behave quite neutrally.
Though a sealed-surface stage Tommi's style is neat and precise and this is helped by a front-end which is extremely responsive to steering inputs. There's very little sideways driving on asphalt and Tommi relies far more on steering with the steering wheel rather that using any drift techniques."
Starts at 0520hrs when the first car will leave Cardiff parc ferme to contest the final round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship. Just three more stages and a final 73.86 competitive kilometres lie in wait for the remaining crews. Both the 2003 Drivers' Champion and 2003 Manufacturers' victor, will be confirmed when the winning car crosses the finish podium in Cardiff tomorrow afternoon.