The Rally de Portugal is proving to be a demanding event, but after the opening day of action the Subaru World Rally Team has two cars firmly in the points-scoring positions. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills ended the day in fourth position, but are ...
The Rally de Portugal is proving to be a demanding event, but after the opening day of action the Subaru World Rally Team has two cars firmly in the points-scoring positions. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills ended the day in fourth position, but are well-placed to launch a podium bid tomorrow. The pace at the front was electrifying, but Petter and Phil ended the day just half a minute off the lead. Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall experienced mixed fortunes, but battled up to hold eighth position overnight.
SSS1: 1800HRS ESTADIO ALGARVE 1 (2.03KM)
Portugal's return to the WRC calendar began in spectacular fashion on
Thursday night with a 2km superspecial inside the Algarve Stadium in
front of 20,000 spectators. Both Subaru World Rally Team drivers safely
negotiated the fan-friendly test. Petter and Phil's time of 2m 09.1s put
them joint third fastest. Chris and Glenn stopped the clocks at 2m 11.4s
(seventh fastest) and had a steady run: "We made sure we got round. It
was quite slippery out there and we saw that a few people had already
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 2m 05.8s
SS2: 1027HRS TAVIRA 1 (19.92KM)
Leg one restarted on Friday morning with the 19.92km Tavira stage -- the
first proper stage of the rally. Tavira started with a steep descent, but
at the 9km point the route began to wind up a hillside and present
drivers with a classic Rally Portugal mix of different road conditions,
from open, high-speed straights to slower, more technical and twisty
sections. The stage had been part of the rally for the past two years,
before it was part of the world championship, so only a handful of WRC
drivers had driven it before. Lead Subaru driver Petter Solberg got off
to a good start by setting the third fastest time, while his team-mate
Chris Atkinson was disappointed by his own 11th fastest result. "It's
strange - it felt good in the stage and I thought I was quicker, but the
time's just not there. We'll have to work on it," said Atkinson.
Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 14m 07.5s
SS3: 1127HRS SERRA DE TAVIRA (24.38KM)
In bright and sunny conditions crews drove directly to SS3, the longest
test of the day. Like the previous stage, the route was mainly an uphill
climb, although a 3km stretch of asphalt near the midpoint added an extra
dimension to the challenge. Once again Petter Solberg was the Subaru pace
setter, and his second fastest time on the stage moved him up to second
overall, 9.9sec behind rally leader Marcus Gronholm. Chris Atkinson's
speed picked up and he crossed the line in the seventh-fastest time.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 16m 30.1s
SS4: 1215HRS S. BRAS DE ALPORTEL 1(16.08KM)
SS4 was the last stage before the midday service and the most twisty and
technical of the leg. After 62 competitive kilometres the battle for the
lead remained extremely tight, and the lead group of four contenders;
Gronholm, Loeb, Hirvonen and Petter Solberg, was separated by just
8.8sec. Dani Sordo was 25sec further back, with another tight group of
four drivers, including Chris Atkinson, in contention for sixth place. At
the finish control, Solberg was feeling positive about his morning's
work, "It's looking really good, but I'm not sure we made the best
tyre choice for those three stages. I'm sure we can go quicker."
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 11m 24.3s
SS5: 1444HRS TAVIRA 2 (19.92KM)
After a 30-minute service halt in the Algarve Stadium, crews drove 37km
north east to repeat the Tavira stage, run earlier in the day as SS2.
With much of the slippery, loose gravel swept off the road during the
first passage, times were generally quicker on the second attempt and
Gronholm's stage winning time was 13sec quicker than before. Once again
there was little to separate the breakaway group of four leading drivers,
and second fastest Petter Solberg was 0.5sec slower than Gronholm.
"It's a good fight!" said Solberg. "I was two seconds slower than
Marcus at the first split, but things got better and better through the
rest of stage and I almost caught him at the end."
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 13m 52.3s
SS6: 1544HRS SERRA DE TAVIRA 2 (24.38KM)
On the penultimate stage of the day, Loeb took a 4.5second chunk out of
Gronholm's lead and ended the test less than two seconds off first
place. Petter Solberg showed an excellent pace on the mid-stage split
times, but a spin later on cost the Norwegian 10 seconds and meant he
crossed the line in the fifth fastest time - 13sec behind Gronholm, but
still in touch with the battle for the lead. After making changes to his
car's rear roll bar and dampers in the service before SS5, Chris
Atkinson ran reliably to set the eighth fastest time but said that he was
still looking for the optimum set-up for the tricky conditions.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 16m 10.2s
SS7: 1632HRS S. BRAS DE ALPORTEL 2 (16.08KM)
The final test of the day was a repeat of the twisty and technical S.
Bras de Alportal stage, and for many drivers it proved to be the biggest
challenge of the day. The combination of the afternoon sun, a
clean-swept, abrasive road surface and plenty of aggressive cornering
meant tyre wear was a major issue. Straight after pushing hard through
the two previous stages, most drivers had to carefully judge their pace
over the last 16km on rubber that was well past its best. Loeb was the
stage winner, and took the overall lead from Gronholm, while Hirvonen and
Solberg were closely matched through the stage to hold overall third and
fourth places respectively.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 11m 10.6s
Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, Richard Taylor: "Overall it's gone pretty well for us today. It was unfortunate that Petter dropped a bit of time on the sixth stage with a spin, but otherwise he has put in an excellent performance and has been right in the thick of the battle for the lead. There's still a long way to go, and we expect that conditions tomorrow will prove similarly hard on the car and tyres, but we there's every reason to think that Petter is on course for a podium finish. Chris has had a tough day and it's proved difficult for him to get into a comfortable rhythm. We'll make a couple of changes to the car tonight and see if we can improve the feel of it for him for tomorrow."
Petter Solberg: "Today has gone really well. The car is quick, easy to drive and a lot of fun, but there is still work to do before we see its full potential. Today we have seen that we need to improve the tyre wear a little, like many others. That's what caught us out a little bit today. Generally though I'm very happy with the way the car drives, and after analysing the data tonight hopefully the engineers will be able to find something to preserve the tyres for the next two days. Tomorrow I'll try to fight back. Of course a podium finish is possible, that's what I'm aiming for. Maybe it's possible to get higher up the podium than third place, we'll just have to see."
Chris Atkinson: "It's not been as good a day as we'd hoped for. The balance of the car just hasn't felt right and I haven't been able to find the same pace I had a few weeks' ago in Mexico. But we're still in the points, there is a long way to go and we have some ideas for tomorrow that might improve things. We'll keep focussed, keep trying hard and hopefully we'll have a better day tomorrow."
Two loops of three special stages await the crews on tomorrow's leg. The tests are all situated to the north west of the rally's base, the Algarve Stadium, near Loule. In general, tomorrow's stages feature a harder, rockier base than leg one's roads. That could place tough demands on the rubber and make tyre choice even more critical for the teams. A total leg distance of 412.78km is split into 152.92km of competitive stages and 259.86km of liason.