Rally Sardinia: Subaru leg one summary

Subaru driver Petter Solberg holds second place on Rally Italia Sardinia tonight after a gruelling day of competition. Despite running first on the road, the Norwegian delivered a string of competitive times aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2005 to...

Subaru driver Petter Solberg holds second place on Rally Italia Sardinia tonight after a gruelling day of competition. Despite running first on the road, the Norwegian delivered a string of competitive times aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2005 to end the day 31 seconds behind the leader, Sebastien Loeb. Chris Atkinson quickly found his pace in his Impreza WRC2005 and traded times with drivers with far more experience to climb as high as third overall. On his first ever gravel rally, Stéphane Sarrazin concentrated on gaining experience of the loose surface conditions. Increasing in confidence throughout the day, he ended the Leg well inside the top-20 and intent on further improvement throughout the weekend.

Stage Reports

SS11: 0853 Terranova 1 (29.82km)

Leg one of the rally started with warm temperatures and clear blue skies as cars left the Olbia service area on their way to the twisty 29.82km test from Terranova. Running first on the road by virtue of his position in the overall Championship standings, Petter Solberg was disadvantaged as his Subaru swept loose gravel from the road benefiting those further down the order. Suffering a half spin and a stall 22km in, he lost ten seconds, but was third fastest and set exactly the same time as his Australian team-mate, Chris Atkinson. The young Australian was competing in only his fourth event in a WRC-class car and was running thirteenth on the road. Contesting his first gravel rally for the Subaru team, Frenchman Stéphane Sarrazin was concentrating on gaining experience on a loose surface and was 21st. Marcus Gronholm was fastest, while Mitsubishi's Harri Rovanpera was second and his Italian team-mate Gigi Galli fifth. Ford's Toni Gardemeister hit a rock 1km from the start and bent his Focus' steering arm. Once the stage was complete, crews drove 30km south to the start of SS2. Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 21:47.9

SS12: 1009 Crastazza 1 (20.54km)

A new stage for 2005, the 20.54km test from Crastazza was faster and smoother than those used for the 2004 event and stage winner Sebastien Loeb recorded an average speed of 92.11kph. Running at an altitude of 700 metres above sea level, until the final 4km which climbed to 900 metres, the dry stage was twisty and very technical. Completing the test 5.2 seconds slower than Loeb, Gronholm was second fastest, while Mikko Hirvonen was third and Francois Duval fourth. Chris Atkinson was sixth, despite suffering with a case of gastroenteritis. Solberg was seventh after suffering another small spin. Italian driver Gigi Galli reported a brake problem in his Lancer and lost more than 20 seconds to the leaders.Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 13:22.8

SS13: 1048 Mamone 1 (18.57km)

The first 2.94km of SS3 took place within the grounds of the island's Mamome prison camp and, as part of their rehabilitation, twenty prisoners were employed to assist marshals in the area. Presenting crews with a harder base than in the previous two stages, the 18.57km test included a 2.5km section of tarmac. Having set two top-two fastest times, Marcus Gronholm set off at a blistering pace and was fastest at the first split. But his attack was cut short by an accident on the tarmac section, when his car left the road and rolled three times down a hill. Gronholm continued, but lost more than a minute and a half to the leaders and dropped to 22nd overall. Galli continued to struggle with his Lancer's brake problem and was 11th. In the Subaru camp, Solberg was second fastest, with Atkinson sixth and an improving Sarrazin 12th. Once the stage was complete, crews returned to Olbia for a 30-minute service. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 12:43.8

SS14: 1424 Terranova 2 (29.82km)

With much of the loose surface having been swept away during the first pass, many drivers set quicker times on its repeat. But there were limits to the improvement and as more cars passed through the narrow stage and cut corners, large rocks were pulled onto the driving line for those following. With his car repaired in the preceding service, Gronholm repeated his earlier performance and took another stage win. Loeb and Duval set exactly the same time to tie for second, while Solberg was fourth. Chris Atkinson reported his choice of tyre compound was too hard and was 17th fastest, while his team-mate Sarrazin was 19th. A fairly flat stage, the test only varied by 100 metres in altitude throughout the first 21km, before climbing 200 metres in the last 8km. After the stage, crews completed a 30km road section to the start of SS5. Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 21:15.1

SS15: 1540 Crastazza 2 (20.54km)

The technical nature of the repeated stage from Crastazza caught out many of the leading drivers as they made their second pass. Having climbed to overall second on the previous stage, Francois Duval ran wide, rolled his Citroen near to the finish and lost a wheel. Local hero Gigi Galli lost more than three minutes with rear suspension damage after hitting a rock. By the finish, Galli tumbled down the leaderboard to 20th overall. Seven kilometres from the finish line, Chris Atkinson's Subaru hit the same rock as Galli and lost a right-rear wheel. Their respective incidents meant all three drivers retired from the Leg. Nominated Ford driver Roman Kresta was forced to switch to his Focus' manual gear-change system after the semi-automatic system failed 2km from the start. Looking to the leaders, Loeb was fastest with Subaru's Solberg second and Gardemeister third. Once the stage was complete, the remaining crews moved to the start of SS6. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 12:55.5

SS16: 1619 Mamone 2 (18.57km)

Wide and open at the start, the repeated Mamone test included a tarmac section, loose gravel mountain roads and a narrow, tricky descent to the finish. After completing almost 70km on the same set of tyres, many crews drove cautiously through the final section in order to preserve the rubber and obtain the maximum grip. However, like many drivers, Armin Schwarz and Marcus Gronholm reported extensive tyre wear by the finish and backed off the pace. Despite running first on the road, Solberg was fastest though the first two splits, but Loeb had the edge on the next two and took the win. Solberg was second fastest, with Gardemeister third. His concentration affected by a bad tyre vibration, Sarrazin eased off the pace to complete the stage safely in sixteenth place. After crews finished the stage, they returned to Olbia for an end of day 45-minute service. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 12:23.6

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg
I'm very pleased to finish today in second place. Sebastien has done a good job and I've been working very hard out there, let me tell you. First on the road here is a very tough place to be, it is so slippery and I had a couple of spins in the morning. Since then, we've had a few things to contend with like no brakes for some of SS4 and a very difficult road surface for our tyres, but that's how it is in rallying and we just have to deal with it. In the past the Pirellis have been so strong in these conditions, but we can see now that the competition has taken a big step forward. I must say I have enormous respect for both tyre companies; their battle is as fierce as the ones between the drivers and the manufacturers. In some particular conditions it seems the competition is ahead just now, but with the work that Pirelli are doing, I'm 100 per cent sure we will get a better tyre. This rally isn't over yet though, it's very rough and easy to make a mistake. I think we'll see a good fight over the next couple of days.

Chris Atkinson
Obviously it's disappointing not to able to finish the day, but I guess we found out just how rough these stages are. The rock that took the wheel off had been getting gradually more and more uncovered as every car drove over it, in the end ours was just one of the three cars that caught it at the wrong time. There have been plenty of positives about the day too. This morning went very well, we set some good times in some very tricky road conditions. In the afternoon we tried a harder compound tyre, in hindsight that wasn't the right thing to do, but we got some useful comparison information. The car's not badly damaged, so I'm expecting that we'll get back out there again tomorrow and learn some more.

Stéphane Sarrazin
Very good, I'm feeling very positive about today. The start was perhaps a little too cautious, especially on the first stage, but then I pushed a little harder and I'm able to swap times with people like Kresta, Galli and Tuohino who have far more experience. Of course it is just my first day on a gravel rally, so I am taking care not to push too hard, but it is very encouraging and I am really looking forward to driving the car again tomorrow.

Team Principal, David Lapworth
As we expected, this rally has proved to be very tricky and full of drama. Overall, we're very satisfied with how things have worked out for Petter. Running first on the road, we knew it would be tough and to be second at this stage means he's still on track for a good finish and a win remains a possibility. On the other hand, Chris experienced some of the drama first hand, but he's actually done very well. We knew many drivers would be caught out by the rocks, it's just a shame Chris was one of them. Assuming all goes well in service, he'll be able to continue tomorrow and get more experience, which after all is his target for this event. Stéphane Sarrazin has been very impressive today. It's hard to imagine how difficult it must be to gain your first experience of gravel in these conditions. The fact that he was able to trade times with more established drivers on his first gravel stages is very impressive.

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager:
Congratulations to Petter whose excellent drive meant that he was beaten only by Sebastien Loeb who was on excellent form. The rules say that we have to nominate tyres more than a week in advance and unfortunately we were not expecting the conditions to be as rough and as abrasive as they have been, This meant that the KM tyre was not the ideal choice for the afternoon stages and consequently Petter lost time. However, he did very well to minimise the time lost and if conditions change tomorrow then everything is still possible.

Tomorrow's Leg

Saturday 30 April 2005
Leg two starts at 0800hrs, when the first car will leave parc ferme for a 10-minute service. Crews will then contest five stages, two of which are repeated, and a total competitive distance of 144.01km. The Leg includes both the longest and shortest stages of the event. The longest is the repeated Tandalo test at 38.77km and the shortest, the Lovia Avra at 5.01km.


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About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team