WRC

Rally Sardinia: Chris Atkinson leg one notes

ATKINSON RIDES THE ROCKY ROAD IN ITALY Australian Chris Atkinson ran as high as third position during the opening day of the Supermag Rally Italia Sardinia before being forced on to the sidelines due to damage sustained when he hit a large rock...

ATKINSON RIDES THE ROCKY ROAD IN ITALY

Australian Chris Atkinson ran as high as third position during the opening day of the Supermag Rally Italia Sardinia before being forced on to the sidelines due to damage sustained when he hit a large rock on the road in the penultimate stage of the day.

Conducted on the Italian island of Sardinia the fifth event in the 16-round the World Rally Championship is regarded as one of the roughest and toughest events on the calendar, something Atkinson can now testify to after today's opening leg incident.

Atkinson and his West Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall will restart in tomorrow's second leg of the event with the confidence that early in the day they were once again able to trade stage times with the world's best drivers.

Atkinson started the day in scintillating fashion to be equal third fastest over the opening 29.82 kilometre stage with his Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg. The pair were 10.1 seconds behind early leader Marcus Gronholm.

The 25-year-old Gold Coaster continued his early speed to set the fourth fastest time in the second stage to move to third outright, under 2 seconds behind second placed Sebastien Loeb.

At the completion of the third stage, three kilometres of which was run through the Mamone prison, Atkinson was engaged in close fought battle for third position with Francois Duval and Solberg with only 2.7 seconds separating the trio.

Unfortunately Atkinson's run inside the top five came to an end shortly after when he hit a rock with his right rear wheel and his day was brought to a premature end seven kilometres shy of completing stage five.

Atkinson wasn't the leading driver to endure problems today with Gronholm when he rolled his Peugeot during the third stage of the day but was able to continue onto the service area for repairs. Citreon driver Francois Duval also rolled on and Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli was forced out with a broken rear suspension on stage five.

"We had a problem with a rock exposed in the middle of the road, unfortunately we hit it at the wrong angle and took a wheel off but that's life it's pretty rough out there, three other guys went out in the same stage, one in the same spot," said Atkinson.

"It is not the roughest rally that I have ever competed in but it is definitely the trickiest because the roads are not only very rough but also very narrow.

"While it was tough during the first pass of the stages in the second run the roads were an absolute mess, they were very rutted up with a lot of rocks exposed. It was very tough out there."

Entering the second leg of the Supermag Rally Italia Sardinia Loeb holds a 31.7 second lead over the defending Champion Solberg with privateer Mikko Hirvonen third under a minute behind the leader.

With Atkinson failing to finish today's final two stages he will however receive a time penalty of five minutes per stage which has dropped him to 24th position.

Tomorrow's second leg consists of five stages to be conducted across 74.51 competitive kilometres with the first stage beginning at 9:38am local time (5:38pm AEST Saturday).

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