The two Subaru World Rally Team drivers made a positive start to round seven of the World Rally Championship, but the prospects of two strong finishes were reduced during a much tougher afternoon. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills were battling at the...
The two Subaru World Rally Team drivers made a positive start to round seven of the World Rally Championship, but the prospects of two strong finishes were reduced during a much tougher afternoon. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills were battling at the front before a brake problem hindered them on SS4, and they finished the day in sixth place. Chris Atkinson/Stephane Prevot were on course to end the day comfortably inside the top eight until they were unable to avoid some rocks in the middle of the road on SS5. They went off and lost several minutes because their Impreza became beached on a boulder.
SS1: 0943hrs Crastazza 1 (31.13km)
The opening leg of the rally began from 0830hrs when cars left the service area in Olbia to tackle the first of six stages. Crastazza was located 57km south west of Olbia and at 31km it was the longest of the whole rally. Weather conditions were fine, dry and sunny as crews began the loose gravel stage in championship order. Subaru's Petter Solberg tackled the stage fifth, with his team-mate Chris Atkinson seventh in the second of the Impreza WRC2007s. A layer of loose, fine gravel on the road put the first cars through the stage at a disadvantage and the road cleaned significantly as the leaders swept the loose material from the racing line. Those behind benefited from the cleaner surface and the stage was won by the eighth driver through, young Finn Jari-Matti Latvala. Marcus Gronholm set the next best time, with Chris Atkinson third and Solberg fourth. Fastest time: J-M Latvala (Ford) 21m 27.8s
SS2: 1058hrs Terranova 1 (21.21km)
Following Crastazza, and after a re-fuelling halt, crews drove 21km north to Terranova and its tricky mixture of conditions. The stage begins with a 5km sprint along a narrow tree-lined track, after which there are a lot of square junctions, crests, straights, narrow gates and two tarmac sections, which are especially challenging to drive on gravel tyres. Problems with the timing system delayed the start by five minutes, but once underway, Sebastien Loeb led the field through. The road cleaning effect on Terranova was less pronounced than it had been on Crastazza and Loeb won the stage despite running first on the road. Petter Solberg set the second fastest time, just 1.8sec behind the pace of the Frenchman. Petter's older brother Henning was third, with Marcus Gronholm fourth and rally leader Latvala rounding off the top five times. Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 15m 14.9s
SS3: 1134hrs Monte Olia 1 (20.36km)
The last stage of the morning loop was the 20km section at Monte Olia, reckoned by Subaru's Stephane Prevot to be the most important of the day. The last five kilometres of Monte Olia are some of the most difficult parts of the rally and combine a furious pace with a changeable road surface, multiple junctions, crests and a big jump. Fastest over the tricky surface was Henning Solberg, who set the best time, 1.2sec ahead of Gronholm who was second. Latvala was third quickest to retain the overall lead of the rally by a slim 1.5sec. Petter Solberg was fourth quickest through the stage and held third position overall. Chris Atkinson reported that the handling of his car had prevented him from attacking with confidence as he had on the first stage. But with a 30-minute service before the next test, he and the rest of the field had a chance to make set-up changes before the repeat loop. Fastest time: H. Solberg (Ford) 14m 52.7s
SS4: 1453hrs Crastazza 2 (31.13km)
The fourth stage of the day was a re-run of the opening test, Crastazza. Marcus Gronholm was the stage winner and became the fourth driver in four stages to claim a fastest time. The win moved Gronholm ahead of Latvala, who was third fastest, and into the overall lead of the rally. There was a setback before the stage started for Petter Solberg, who picked up a ten second penalty when work on a rear brake caliper overran and he left service one minute late. On the stage Solberg reported further difficulties with his car's rear brakes and was unable to match the excellent pace he had shown earlier in the day. The Norwegian set the seventh fastest time, 27sec off Gronholm's pace, and dropped from third to sixth overall as a result. Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 20m 51.9s
SS5: 1608hrs Terranova 2 (21.21km)
After the passage of the all the competitors earlier in the day, the road surface of Terranova had deteriorated by the time it was repeated as SS5. The gravel stage now featured deep ruts in many corners, and a number of rocks had been uncovered on the racing line as tyres dug into the loose surface for traction. The conditions proved costly for Latvala and Atkinson, who both retired with rock-related problems. Latvala, the rally leader for the morning loop of stages, stopped midway through the test with broken suspension, while Atkinson's Impreza was deflected of course by some rocks and became beached on a roadside boulder. Atkinson did eventually get underway again, but with doubts about engine damage in the incident, the Subaru team decided to recover the car to the service area for checks. If all is well, Atkinson will re-start the rally on leg two. Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 14m 44.9s
SS6: 1644hrs Monte Olia 2 (20.36km)
Day one finished with a repeat of the Monte Olia test. Sebastien Loeb took the stage win, and with it the overnight rally lead, after Marcus Gronholm finished 25 seconds off the pace with a broken damper. Petter Solberg's car continued to be affected by a lack of rear braking power and the Norwegian dropped more time to the leaders. His time of 14m 57.6s was the seventh fastest, and he will start tomorrow's second leg sixth overall. Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 14m 30.9s
Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, Richard Taylor: "The day started very brightly, with both Petter and Chris showing great competitiveness and establishing themselves in the top four. Unfortunately this afternoon has not been so kind to us: Petter experienced some problems with the brakes from SS4 and we have to take our hats off to him for the way he managed to drive around the issue and then carry out interim repairs on the road sections. Although he lost some time, the most important thing is that he is still in the rally in a points-scoring position. Chris's retirement was through no fault of his own: on SS5, about 1km from the end of the stage, he was unable to avoid two large rocks in the middle of the road and went off, losing several minutes. Without those issues, we would have been right in the mix and the Impreza's pace on the morning stages suggests we're not out of the hunt for the podium yet. We're less than one minute off third place, so we're confident Petter will be able to get back on the attack on leg two tomorrow."
Petter Solberg: "We got off to a really good start today, and after service we were going well too -- matching the pace of Marcus and Sebastien on the first couple of splits on SS4 -- but then we lost the brakes and that ruined everything. I did my best in the circumstances, but with no brakes we had no chance and now we've dropped a long way back. >From being in a position where we were fighting for the lead it's pretty frustrating, and I almost couldn't believe it, when I knew what was happening. Still, we've shown that we can be in the fight and tomorrow, when the car is back to 100 per cent I'll do all I can to get the time back."
Chris Atkinson: "It's been another tough rally. I don't like to make excuses, but it was almost as if somebody had put the rocks there. We came around a blind corner and there were two big rocks in the middle of the road, right on the line. I suppose it was a good job it was on a relatively slow section, as the damage doesn't seem too bad, but there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. I think the car will be fine and we'll be able to get back out again tomorrow. We've got to keep moving forward with the development of the car and our performance. We've seen today that there's still room for improvement and that's the main focus."
For day two of Rally d'Italia-Sardegna the action shifts to Terranova, to the south-west of the rally's base in Olbia and mixes familiar roads used in previous years with new sections. Competitors will tackle three stages in the morning and then return to the same three tests in the afternoon, after a 30-minute service halt back in Olbia.