The Subaru Impreza WRC2005 returns to gravel next week when the FIA World Rally Championship moves to the UK for round 12 of the series, Wales Rally GB. This classic rally is run through the forests of south Wales, with Rally HQ based in the ...
The Subaru Impreza WRC2005 returns to gravel next week when the FIA World Rally Championship moves to the UK for round 12 of the series, Wales Rally GB.
This classic rally is run through the forests of south Wales, with Rally HQ based in the cosmopolitan Welsh capital, Cardiff, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary as the principal town of Wales, and its centenary year as a city. The service park is located some 70km to the west of Cardiff, at Felindre near Swansea.
The event, often billed as one of the greatest motorsport challenges in the world, is famed for its punishing forest stages and changeable weather. Rally GB is also memorable for the Subaru World Rally Teamfor a number of reasons as the team has won eight of the past ten Rally GB events included in the WRC calendar*. Its winning streak started in 1994 when Colin McRae drove the Impreza to a maiden Rally GB win, a feat he repeated the following year and again in 1997. Richard Burns later scored two victories in '99 and 2000 before Petter Solberg began his stranglehold on the event.
The Norwegian has an impressive record at Rally GB. Petter scored his first WRC win at the event in 2002 and held his nerve in 2003 to win both the rally and the WRC Drivers' Championship. Solberg sealed his third consecutive victory in 2004 and now chases a fourth consecutive win in 2005. Should he take the victory, he will join a select group of only a handful of drivers to have won an individual World Championship event four years in a row. Shekhar Mehta won the Safari Rally from 1973 to 1976, while Sébastien Loeb has won Rallye Deutschland from 2002 to 2005. Tommi Makinen also won the 1000 Lakes from 1992 - 1996**.
The event comprises 354.22 competitive kilometres and 17 stages, two less than 2004. Leg one comprises three separate stages, each run twice, and takes crews into the forests of Wales, with a mixture of fast straights and twisty, narrow sections. The Leg includes the celebrated Rheola stage that undulates through the Neath valley. The second Leg features seven stages, starting to the north east of Felindre, near the Brecon Beacons national park, before returning to Cardiff for a Saturday night Super Special stage. This spectator stage will be run for the first time in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, host of the 2005 FA Cup Final. World Rally Cars will race the 1.1km stage under the cover of the stadium's fully-retractable roof, the cars never previously having competed indoors. The final Leg comprises just four stages, however the event has a real sting in its tail with the last day featuring the longest test of the event, Resolfen, at 29.39km and, if the conditions are dry, potentially the dustiest stage of the championship at Margam.
For the second consecutive year Rally GB will be held in September with crews expecting anything from warm sunshine and blue skies to lashing rain and fog. Such unpredictable conditions can really affect the road surface,
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter a three-car team on Wales Rally GB. The three Impreza WRC2005's will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills), Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall) and Stéphane Sarrazin (co-driven by Denis Giraudet). On this event Petter and Chris will be eligible to score points in the 2005 FIA Championship for Manufacturers.
Chris Atkinson makes his competitive Rally GB debut, although he did complete the recce last year. This will also be Stéphane Sarrazin's first Rally GB.
"I'm really looking forward to Rally GB. It's a very special rally for both me and the team as we have very good memories of the event. We have won the event many times - I won my first-ever rally there and then a year later the championship, so for sure I enjoy it very much. We seem to have a lot of support there too, no doubt partly because Phil is a local! This year will be different from other years though. The plan and objective is to win, but we have to be realistic. It has been a difficult season for us, and we have to hope that we have more success than we have had at other gravel events. That said, we will go out to try and win, and take whatever comes at us."
"This is my first Rally GB, and I think it will be tough. Like most events this year, it will be a learning experience, although I will be looking for a strong finish. I'm pleased with the speed we've shown in previous events, so there's every chance. There are some nice stages in the event, but it could get tricky if it rains. The team have a lot of knowledge about the event, and I've got some experience of rallying in similar conditions. In the Asia-Pacific series I did last year we had lots of muddy rallies, so that may help. Then again it may well be dry this year! It's going to be a hard rally, but we've got to aim for points."
"I haven't competed in this event before, but I hope to take a step forward in terms of performance. I have some good experience now on gravel after events such as Greece and Sardinia and I will be pushing hard to get a good finish. The entry list is very competitive so it will be hard for us, but I'm looking for a top eight or ten result at least. We did well in Germany, finishing in the top ten on most of the stages, so this will be the goal at this rally. I want to set some good times, which hopefully will be possible as the team has a lot of experience here. The test in Wales will be a good opportunity to find a good balance for the car and for me to learn a bit more of the conditions in Wales. I'm looking forward to my first time through the Welsh forests!"
The Car / The Challenge
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth
"Rally GB is generally a fast event with some good driver roads that aren't generally car-breaking stages, so it's traditionally the fastest driver and car package that wins the rally, rather than the strongest car. For most of its life the rally has been held in November, which has meant that it has tended to be cold and wet and muddy. Last year the event moved to September, but by some freak of nature it was exactly the same! This year, it could well be completely different and the character of the event could change entirely. Margam, for instance, is traditionally very slippery, but in the dry it could be dusty - potentially the most dusty of the championship.
"We've done very well on the event in the past, winning eight of the last ten WRC events in Wales, but it's going to be more difficult this year. There is definitely the plus of the team being on a home event and knowing how to win it and Petter, in particular, has the confidence of being a three-times winner. That said, if the weather is sunny, it's likely to be a leveller for the field as few of the top drivers have experience of the event in the dry. In terms of tyres too, it will be a compromise as we can't cover every eventuality that the British weather could throw at us!
"We've got lots of support out there, as this is the event at which we've previously had a lot of success. As we know, Petter may well join a select group if he wins this year, but it will be a tough event. For Chris this is his first Wales Rally GB, so he'll have to strike a balance between getting experience and showing what he can do. He's getting more and more confident and we've seen some good stage times from him recently, especially in Finland. Stéphane will contest the whole rally, and this is a real chance for him to get some more mileage and build up some speed. Stéphane, out of everyone, would benefit most from dry conditions as the field will be levelled, so he could set some really fast stage times."
Between the Rallies
All three SWRT drivers have been keeping busy in the three weeks between Rallye Deutschland and Rally GB. A five day pre-event test in Wales saw Petter Solberg take to the road for three days, with Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Sarrazin taking over for one day each. The team concentrated on settings for Rally GB and the forthcoming Rally Japan.
It has not all been hard work and the drivers have all enjoyed some leisure time. Petter took a couple of days holiday to travel to troll country in the mountains of Norway, where he enjoyed outdoor pursuits including fishing, walking and cycling. Chris also travelled during the break, driving to Switzerland with some friends, before heading to the Netherlands to watch a motocross race. Stéphane has been using the break to concentrate on his fitness.