The Subaru World Rally Team consolidated its position among the frontrunners on the second leg of Rally de Portugal. Solberg/Phil Mills started the day in fourth position and, despite difficult, varied weather, ended the six stages still within ...
The Subaru World Rally Team consolidated its position among the frontrunners on the second leg of Rally de Portugal. Solberg/Phil Mills started the day in fourth position and, despite difficult, varied weather, ended the six stages still within striking distance of a place on the podium. There was bitter luck for the other entry of Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall: they went off the road on SS10 and could not continue.
SS8: 0948HRS SILVRES / OURIQUE 1 (30.69KM)
After a night of light rain, conditions on the first stage of day two,
the longest of the rally, were muddy, slippery and in sharp contrast to
the dry and dusty roads of leg one. Although the rain had stopped and
skies were clearing by the time crews lined up at the start control, the
combination of a brand new route and unknown grip levels made this a
particularly difficult challenge. Like many others in the stage,
Subaru's Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg both had moments when they
left the road. Atkinson's car slid into a ditch 10km from the start and
emerged with a radiator plugged with mud. His engine switched to a
safe-mode to keep the temperature under control, but at the expense of
some power, and he finished ninth fastest. Solberg finished third
fastest, despite losing around 10 seconds when he drove off the road and
into a field 3km from the start. He ploughed on, and re-joined the stage
without damaging his Impreza WRC2007.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 21m 36.5s
SS9: 1037HRS OURIQUE 1 (24.88KM)
After the finish of SS8, crews drove a short, seven kilometre road
section to the start of the 24km Ourique stage. Road conditions remained
inconsistent and tricky. There were still some deep puddles of water on
the surface, but in the bright sunshine the rest of the stage was drying
out quickly. Leg one's four-way fight for the lead had split into two
battles on leg two; a fight for the lead between Sebastien Loeb and
Marcus Gronholm, and a separate battle for third place featuring Mikko
Hirvonen and Petter Solberg. At the end of the stage, Loeb held the
overall lead by a slim margin of 10.9sec, while Solberg closed-in on
third placed Hirvonen, narrowing the gap to just 5sec.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 14m 59.9s
SS10: 1132HRS ALMODOVAR 1 (20.89KM)
The twisty and narrow opening section of the Almodovar stage caused
problems for several competitors, most notably Chris Atkinson, who went
off the road 700 metres from the start line. Atkinson was negotiating a
complex sequence of sixth gear corners when he missed a pace-note and
drove off the stage at high speed. Atkinson and co-driver Glenn Macneall
were uninjured in the incident but when their car eventually came to rest
it was too badly damaged for them to continue and the pair retired from
the leg. In the battle for third place, Petter Solberg conceded eight
seconds to Hirvonen: "We're pushing hard, trying everything we can, but
the mid section was extremely tricky, I didn't have the best pace notes
and I couldn't find a good rhythm," said Solberg.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 11m 40.5s
SS11: 1450HRS SILVRES / OURIQUE 2 (30.69KM)
Following a 30-minute service at the Algarve Stadium, competitors set off
to repeat the morning's loop of three stages. Since the earlier pass,
bright sunshine had dried the road surface completely and the slippery
mud had been replaced by a hard-packed, abrasive surface. The stage was
won by rally leader Loeb, in a time that was 1min 20sec quicker than
before. Gronholm chased hard and set a time over the 30 competitive
kilometres that was just 1.7sec slower that Loeb's. Hirvonen and Solberg
continued their tussle for third place, with Hirvonen stopping the clock
four seconds quicker on this occasion. Solberg reported that his aim was
to conserve his tyres for the final two tests of the leg.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 20m 16.0s
SS12: 1539HRS OURIQUE 2 (24.88KM)
As the temperature reached its mid afternoon peak, crews tackled the
clean swept Ourique stage for the second time. As on leg one, tyre
conservation over the three consecutive repeated stages was an extremely
important factor. Over such punishing terrain, many leading drivers
reported that their tyres were already badly worn, with one more stage
still to run. Second placed Gronholm thought he had made a poor choice
and he dropped 14sec further behind rally leader Loeb. Having driven
conservatively on the previous test, Petter Solberg pushed hard and set
the second-fastest time -- his best result of the rally so far.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 14m 35.0s
SS13: 1634HRS ALMODOVAR 2 (20.89KM)
An advantageous tyre choice enabled Loeb to stretch his overall rally
lead to more than 40sec during the final stage of the day. On the stage,
Gronholm was second quickest, nine seconds back, with Petter Solberg less
than two seconds adrift in third -- despite reporting a very badly worn
front-right tyre. Hirvonen was unable to match Solberg's pace, and the
overnight gap between the pair stood at exactly 13 seconds. Over the
course of the day's 76 stage kilometres the gap had increased by just
5.5sec, and the scene was set for a thrilling battle on the 81km that
remain on Sunday.
Fastest time: S. Loeb (Citroen) 11m 38.6s
Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, Richard Taylor: "It's been a day of mixed fortunes for our two drivers. Petter has consolidated his fourth position overall and it was great to see him take time out of third-placed Mikko Hirvonen on the last two stages this afternoon. It bodes well for tomorrow's final leg of the rally. We've every confidence that Petter can attack Mikko and perhaps take third position, although our priority for this rally has to be a strong points finish and we have to ensure we don't take too many risks in our pursuit of the podium. It was unfortunate for Chris that his mistake on stage ten resulted in an accident which ended his rally. It capped a tough weekend for him, but it's important to remember that there's plenty of potential still to be unlocked from the Impreza WRC2007 and we've every faith that he can exploit that."
Petter Solberg: "The conditions have been very hard out there today. But apart from SS10, when my pace notes weren't so good, it hasn't been bad at all. On these roads it's been very difficult to keep the tyres in good condition for the groups of stages, and I had to back off a bit here and there, but it's the same for everybody. The car has run perfectly, and the set-up has improved steadily throughout the day. This morning it was a little bit too soft, and the balance wasn't very good, but we made a few chassis changes later on and got a much better feeling on the last two stages. The plan for tomorrow is catch Mikko. The gap is just 13 seconds, and the way the car feels now I think that could be possible. We'll wait and see, but I will push as hard as I can."
Chris Atkinson: "It hasn't been the best weekend, that's for sure. It's a great shame because I thought this rally would suit my driving style and the car. This morning I struggled with the handling a bit, we had some balance and understeer problems and I was struggling to get the car turned in properly -- especially on such slippery roads. We started the stage (SS10) pretty well but in hindsight I was thinking too much about the feeling, and not concentrating on the road. I missed a corner note, got on the wrong line and just went straight off. Clearly the team and I have some work to do before we find a good, balanced set-up for wet and dry conditions. And while we experimented a bit here, it's not an ideal environment in which to test. We have a proper test planned shortly which should give me the opportunity to work on the set-up specifically. Petter and I have shown that the outright speed is there, but this is only the second rally for the new car and clearly there's a lot to learn."
The third and final leg of Rally de Portugal features just four gravel stages. The morning's tests -- named Loule/Almodovar and Loule -- are repeated in the afternoon and then the drivers return to the Algarve Stadium for a final blast around the superspecial (a repeat of the opening test of the rally). The competitive distance is 81.39km and the road sections total 189.06km, making a total leg length of 270.45km.