After a faultless performance on Leg two of Wales Rally GB, Petter Solberg collected three stage wins and reduced the gap between himself and event leader Sebastien Loeb to 7.3 seconds. Solberg and Loeb were in a class of their own through the ...
After a faultless performance on Leg two of Wales Rally GB, Petter Solberg collected three stage wins and reduced the gap between himself and event leader Sebastien Loeb to 7.3 seconds. Solberg and Loeb were in a class of their own through the day's eight stages and ended the Leg more than two minutes ahead of the rest of the field. With 90km of competitive driving remaining, Leg three promises to be a thrilling finale. Mikko Hirvonen continued to show promise aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 on only his second-ever full day of Wales Rally GB. Contesting many of today's stages for the first time, the young Finn ended the day in seventh position.
SS8: 0903 Crychan 1 (13.45km)
In heavy rain, crews drove 65km north of Swansea to the first
stage of the day, based on the rain soaked military ranges of Epynt.
Presenting drivers with a smoother road surface than that of Leg one,
Crychan started with a fast uphill section that went through a number of
gates and junctions and included a series of twisty corners and blind
crests. Crews then contested a tree-lined narrow section that demanded
the ultimate in precision driving, followed by a fast descent to the
finish. Running fifteenth on the road, event leader Sebastien Loeb was
fastest, with Marcus Gronholm 0.1 seconds behind for second and Subaru's
Petter Solberg another 1.5 seconds back for third. Driving Crychan for
the first time in his WRC career, Mikko Hirvonen was tenth fastest to
retain his overnight sixth position. There was no change to the top ten
and, after the finish, crews moved directly to the start of SS9.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 7:29.1
SS9: 0933 Epynt 1 (13.33km)
As rain continued to fall over mid Wales, many of the leading
WRC drivers found themselves aquaplaning through sections of the 13km
stage from Epynt. Included in the event for the first time, the stage
offered a blend of wide, fast straights, hairpin bends and also included
a 0.5-mile stretch of asphalt. Struggling for traction in the slippery
conditions, Marcus Gronholm skidded off the road in his Peugeot and lost
a wheel when he hit a metal post. He cruised to the end of the stage on
three wheels, but was unable to carry out the necessary repair work
within the time allowed and retired. Competing in a Bozian Racing
prepared Peugeot 206, Petter's brother Henning Solberg also skidded off
the greasy road and damaged his car's turbo intercooler. With a lack of
boost, he fell from tenth to thirteenth position overall. Duval was
quickest, with Loeb second and Solberg third. There were problems for
Mikko Hirvonen when, leaving the road on a sixth gear corner, his car
hit a bank which blocked his car's radiator with mud. As his Subaru's
engine automatically cut power to maintain water temperature, he lost 17
seconds to the leaders and was tenth fastest. After the finish, cars
drove straight to the start of SS10.
Fastest Stage Time: Duval (Ford) 7:42.9
SS10: 1005 Halfway 1 (18.58km)
The 18km forest stage from Halfway took crews through a series
of forest tracks, including a new gravel section which featured a series
of jumps and corners on crests, before concluding with wide, fast
sweeping road across open moorland. Looking to the leaders, Loeb was
fastest to extend his lead to 17.2 seconds, with Duval second fastest
and Subaru's Petter Solberg third. Mikko Hirvonen had stopped in the
preceding road section to clear the hard-packed mud from his car's
radiator. But, despite his best efforts, enough remained for the engine
to stay in a 'safe' mode and manage the temperature by limiting power.
He was eighteenth fastest, but retained sixth position overall. After
the finish, crews moved to a 10-minute tyre change zone at the town of
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 10:37.1
SS11: 1205 Crychan 2 (13.45km)
Petter Solberg had vowed to take time off event leader Sebastien
Loeb on the repeated loop of stages and on the second pass of Crychan he
did just that. Recording an average speed of 106.93kph, the 2003 Wales
Rally GB winner reduced his overall deficit to 15.5 seconds. Duval was
second fastest and Loeb was third. Although they had been given the
opportunity to switch tyres at the preceding mini-service, thanks to the
slippery nature of the stages many crews chose to press on using the
same soft-compound tyres as they'd used for the first loop. With new WRC
regulations limiting the amount of tyres available for each car, and
soft compound tyres in short supply to most teams, many drivers elected
to keep their best looking rubber on the car and fit just one or two
fresh tyres. Ford's Markko Martin was fifteenth fastest after struggling
with an engine problem. Yet, having started the stage with more than a
minute in hand to fourth-placed Carlos Sainz, he remained in third
overall. Young Subaru driver Mikko Hirvonen was seventh fastest. After
the finish, crews moved directly to the start of SS12.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 7:32.8
SS12: 1235 Epynt 2 (13.33km)
As the rain eased, there was less standing water on the second
pass through the 13km stage from Epynt, but its repeated use had churned
up the gravely surface and it remained muddy and damp. Francois Duval
was fastest to take his third win of the event, while Subaru's Petter
Solberg was second, despite overshooting a corner. Sebastien Loeb was
third. By the finish, 13.8 seconds separated the lead pair in the
overall standings with 138.58 competitive kilometres left to run. Markko
Martin continued to lose time due to a continuing engine problem in his
Focus, but despite dropping almost half a minute to the leaders, he
remained well-cushioned in third position overall, 42 seconds ahead of
Sainz. Not a great day for Skoda driver Jani Paasonen. The Finn failed
to make the start of the twelfth stage after retiring on the preceding
road section with a broken clutch. After the finish, crews completed the
8.42km road section to the start of SS13.
Fastest Stage Time: Duval (Ford) 7:49.1
SS13: 1307 Halfway 2 (18.58km)
Contesting the 18km Halfway stage for the second time, reigning
World Champion Petter Solberg was fastest to take the stage win and
another 3.2 seconds from Loeb's lead. Starting the drying stage with an
advantage of more than a minute over the rest of the field, the duo had
become locked in their own battle for the overall top spot. Duval was
third fastest, while his team-mate Martin lost a further 35 seconds
thanks to his on-going engine problem and fell further back towards the
chasing Carlos Sainz. At the finish, the gap between the pair in overall
third and fourth respectively had been reduced to 15.9 seconds. Once the
stage was complete, and after more than 90 kilometres of flat-out
competition, crews finally returned to Felindre for a 20-minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 10:45.1
SS14: 1609 Margam 1 (27.55km)
After six tests north of Felindre, SS14 took crews to the
country estate of Margam Park. With only a Super Special remaining after
the stage was complete, the 27.55km test provided the last real chance
in Leg two for Solberg to catch Loeb. It was tense battle. Citroen's
Loeb was fastest through the first four split points but, as the
pressure mounted, it was Solberg who had the edge. Picking up his pace,
the Norwegian completed the stage fastest to take his sixth win of the
event and another 3.8 seconds from Loeb's overall lead. At the finish,
the gap between them was down to just 6.8 seconds. Martin was third
fastest, with Sainz one second further back in fourth. Negotiating the
stages long muddy corners, tricky junctions and crests, Mikko Hirvonen
was eighth fastest. A bad stage for Skoda when the team's sole remaining
driver, Toni Gardemeister, who had held tenth place overall, rolled his
Fabia WRC and dropped 29 minutes. A bad stage too for Jani Tuohino who
retired his Ford Focus with a transmission problem. After the finish,
crews stopped for a refuel before the 54km road section to the docks
area of Cardiff and the start of SS15.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 15:06.4
SS15: 1754 Cardiff Super Special 2 (2.45km)
Leg two concluded with a return to the Cardiff dockland arena
and another blast around the Welsh capital's Super Special stage.
Cheered on by thousands of spectators, crews went head-to-head around
the short 2.45km test through its water splash and over its jump.
Holding his nerve, Loeb was second fastest to maintain the overall lead,
Solberg was third fastest to maintain second and Martin was fourth
fastest for overnight third. Duval took the stage win and, after the
finish, crews returned to Felindre for a final 45-minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Duval (Ford) 2:07.1
It's been very exciting out there today - great fun! I would have liked to get closer to Sebastien, but I think in the end we both pretty much repeated Leg one - first he had the advantage, then I got some time back, it was incredible. I must say, he's really been on the case today and we've pushed each other hard. But I have some speed in reserve and tomorrow is when that comes out - it will be a different pace altogether. I'll have my Viking horns on and it'll be maximum attack to the finish!
It's been good to get the experience of today's stages, but I know I could have done better if it wasn't for some mistakes earlier on. We lost a lot of time after we went off the road and blocked the radiator, and since then I've felt something has been missing from the performance. But tomorrow is another day, and I'm hoping that after learning some more lessons today we can put in some times to be proud of.
Team Principal, David Lapworth
It's shaping up to be a classic battle right to the end. Petter has had another excellent day, it's been nip and tuck with Sebastien, but he's managed to close the lead margin to just over seven seconds and everything's in place for a thrilling finale tomorrow. Mikko's finding it tough with limited experience of Rally GB conditions, but he's learning all the time and the forecast dry stages tomorrow should allow him to show us more of the speed we know he's capable of.
News from Pirelli
, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
It was a brilliant second Leg for Petter, who is now less than eight seconds off the rally lead having fought through difficult conditions equipped with the new Pirelli P Zero KP4 tyre. In order to win, picking the right tyre of tyre for the last Leg's conditions will be crucial. We are expecting the weather to get progressively better during the day so it should be a thrilling finish to an excellent rally.
Sunday 19 September 2004
Starts at 0630hrs when the first car will leave Felindre parc ferme to contest the final Leg of Wales Rally GB. Just four more stages and 90 competitive kilometres lie in wait for the remaining crews, including two passes through the 30km Rhondda test, a repeat of Margam and a final return to the Cardiff Super Special. The event will conclude when the winning car crosses the finish podium at 1535hrs.