Rally Sardinia: Subaru leg one summary

After taking the lead of the all-new WRC Rally Italia Sardinia on stage one, Subaru's Petter Solberg held his advantage all day to end the Leg more than thirty seconds ahead of second placed Marcus Gronholm. Delivering a confident and ...

After taking the lead of the all-new WRC Rally Italia Sardinia on stage one, Subaru's Petter Solberg held his advantage all day to end the Leg more than thirty seconds ahead of second placed Marcus Gronholm. Delivering a confident and well-paced drive aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004, the reigning World Champion scored three stage wins and ends the day excellently positioned ahead of Leg two. After making a promising start to the event and setting some competitive stage times, Mikko Hirvonen retired after a gearbox oil leak. Taking advantage of the WRC re-start regulations, Mikko will re-join Petter on the stages tomorrow.

Stage Reports

SS1: 0912 Tantariles 1 (28.69km)

The opening stage of the rally gave the first indication of how much time, if any, the front-runners would concede as they swept the sandy roads clean for those following. Similar in places to stages in Cyprus and Argentina, the 29km section included a short twisty uphill climb before a flat out dash to the finish. Running first on the road, Citroen's Sebastien Loeb recorded the ninth fastest time, while second on the road Petter Solberg confounded normal expectations by setting a time 32 seconds quicker. With excellent traction from his Pirelli KM tyres, the Norwegian collected the stage win and moved into the early lead of the event, 16 seconds ahead of Markko Martin who was second, and 19 seconds ahead of Harri Rovanpera who was third. Petter's team-mate Mikko Hirvonen also put in an excellent time to finish fourth fastest. Not a great start to the event for Skoda's Toni Gardemeister. Fifteen kilometres in, the Finn drove his Fabia WRC off the road and out of the rally. His misfortune left Armin Schwarz as the remaining Skoda works driver, he was eleventh fastest. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS2.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 21:05.6

SS2: 1021 Loelle 1 (27.45m)

Taking crews over a sandy, slippery road surface, the narrow 27.45km stage ran 800 metres above sea level and presented crews with a mixture of fast sections interspersed with tight corners and tricky hairpins. Solberg was again fastest and set an average speed of 82.53kph in his Impreza to take his second consecutive stage win. At the finish, the Norwegian's overall lead stood at 24.1 seconds after just 56km of competitive driving. Solberg increased his lead despite driving in 'safe' mode for much of the stage when a cracked cooling system component caused his engine's water temperature to rise. The rising temperature activated a failsafe system that cut some power to maintain a safe running temperature. Marcus Gronholm was second fastest, while Sebastien Loeb was third. Carlos Sainz hit a tree and sustained bodywork damage, but was sixth fastest, while Ford's Markko Martin suffered a stall 7km from the finish and dropped 11 seconds. Juuso Pykalisto went off the road in his Kronos Racing Team prepared Citroen Xsara 22km in and retired. After the finish, the remaining crews moved to the start of SS3.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 19:57.4

SS3: 1100 Tepilora 1 (23.14km)

A very narrow stage, the test from Tepilora featured a slippery, sandy road surface, which quickly became rutted. Tight hairpins, twisty corners and fast straights combined to demand the ultimate in precision driving, while rocks and ditches lined the roadside, ready to catch out the unwary. Sebastien Loeb was fastest through the technical stage, while Petter Solberg, still affected by the water-cooling problem, was second fastest. Citroen's Carlos Sainz was third and Markko Martin fourth. There were problems for Peugeot driver Harri Rovanpera when he lost 20 seconds after leaving the road in his 307 and stalling its engine. He completed the test, but was tenth fastest and 25.2 seconds off the winning pace. After an encouraging start to the rally, there was also disappointment for Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen shortly after the finish line. Losing pressure from his Impreza's gear change system due to an oil leak at the end of the stage, the Finn selected second gear by getting under his car and engaging it manually. However, despite repeated repairs, the gear would not stay selected and the Finn eventually ran out of time on the road section back to service.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 19:42.9

SS4: 1421 Tantariles 2 (28.69km)

Having made some changes to his 307's differential settings in the preceding service, Gronholm was fastest through the repeated narrow Tantariles test, to take his first win of the event. Rovanpera was second fastest, to make it a Peugeot one-two, while Solberg was third fastest to retain the overall lead by more than 20 seconds. Struggling with the handling of his Focus due to a suspension set-up that he believed was too soft, Ford's Francois Duval was seventh fastest. Speeds were higher on the second pass through the mountainous stage, as repeated use cleared the loose gravel surface and the route became more familiar. There were no leading WRC retirements and, after the finish, crews moved to the start of SS5.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 20:40.2

SS5: 1530 Loelle 2 (27.45km)

Gronholm was again fastest on what proved to be one of the most evenly matched stages of the day. Setting an average speed of 85.09kph, the highest of the event so far, the Finn negotiated the repeated, twisty Loelle stage to take his second stage win. But Petter Solberg was on the pace and just 0.3 seconds slower to finish second fastest and maintain his overall lead. Loeb was third fastest through the confined, narrow test, and finished 0.9 seconds off the winning pace, while Sainz was fourth. Rovanpera was fifth fastest, despite suffering with overheating brakes, while Ford drivers, Martin and Duval were six and seventh fastest respectively. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS6.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 19:21.4

SS6: 1609 Tepilora 2 (23.14km)

Having led the event all day, Petter Solberg stormed through the final stage and shaved almost 40 seconds off his previous Tepilora time to take another win and increase his lead to more than half a minute. Gronholm was fourth fastest to end the day in overall second, while Loeb was second fastest to hold overnight third. Sainz was third fastest, enough to snatch overall fourth from Markko Martin. After the finish, crews returned to Olbia for a 45-minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 19:03.3

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg
Not bad actually, it's working very well. I pushed quite hard earlier on, perhaps a bit too hard in places, but we made a good tyre choice this morning, and the car has a lot of traction when it's slippery. I must say I'm enjoying the stages more than I thought I would, you have to drive very precisely and use the throttle a lot to keep the car in the correct line, it reminded me a bit of my rallycross days in fact. I'm pleased with the position so far, but on this rally 30 seconds is really nothing at all, tomorrow is difficult, and Sunday even more difficult, so of course I'll keep pushing to try and increase the gap.

Mikko Hirvonen
It's really disappointing, but I tried my best. The event started quite well and the second and third stages weren't too bad, although I had a small overheating problem. But, at the end of the third stage (SS3), I lost pressure from the gear change system when there was an oil leak. The car came out of gear so I got out my tools, got under the car and managed to engage second gear manually. I started driving again, but it kept jumping back out of gear. I repeated this process several times, but in the end I just ran out of time. It's disappointing to retire, but least I still drove all of today's stages once. I'm glad I'm able to restart tomorrow and get more experience.

Team Principal, David Lapworth
The rally has been every bit as difficult as we'd expected, but it's very satisfying to see Petter with a relatively good lead at the end of the first day. His recent run of good form on gravel seems to be continuing and his confidence is high. Tyre choice has been a critical factor today, but so too has the way in which Petter has made the best use of the tyres he has. It's a difficult compromise but Petter has done a very good job. Having got off to such a good start, it's a shame for Mikko that his rally ended so soon. He'll now use the re-entry system on Saturday and Sunday to show what he can do.

News from Pirelli

Paul Hembery , Pirelli Tyres Director of Motorsport
In the morning we made an excellent tyre choice, which allowed Petter to maintain an advantage that he kept from the first to the last stage of the day. In the afternoon, we were perhaps a little too conservative, but we still managed to clearly demonstrate the superiority of our P Zero tyres on this type of surface."

Team Talk
Pirelli's Home Event

Rally Italia Sardinia is Pirelli's home event and presents a unique new set of challenges. The route takes in a wide variety of surfaces and speeds but the majority of the action takes place on soft gravel stages, which require a carefully developed bespoke tyre in order to achieve maximum performance. Pirelli's Motorsport Director, Paul Hembery, talks about what it takes to prepare and choose the ideal tyre for the Sardinian conditions:

How would you describe the stage conditions on this rally?

The predominant stage surface has a hard-packed base with coating of light gravel that's almost sandy in places. They're very abrasive and certainly unique to the Championship.

How did Pirelli prepare for this event?

As an Italian company we have significant experience of the national championship events in Sardinia, and we were able to use the knowledge we've built up to help with our selections here. As you'd expect we've also done some testing in representative conditions as part of our regular development programme.

What are the critical factors for a good tyre in these conditions?

There are three main elements: First, the tread pattern, which has to do a good job of clearing the loose gravel from the surface. Secondly, due to the hard base here, the compound must be right to provide the grip. On some gravel events the tread, and clearing the road, is the biggest factor but here you must clear the surface and let the tyre grip the hard surface underneath. Thirdly it's about wear resistance, the stages are abrasive and you need to strike the right balance between compound grip performance and its resistance to wear.

Is it harder to find the right compromise between performance and durability here than anywhere else?

No, we face similar issues on rallies like Greece and Turkey, the only difference here is that we don't have too much experience of this specific rally, so the chances of making an error are increased. No matter how much preparation you make there are always elements that you cannot foresee. Until you've got Petter in the car and on the stage, you can never be sure.

Tomorrow's Leg
Saturday 2 October 2004

Comprising just less than 150 competitive kilometres, Leg two will start at 0630hrs when the first car will leave Porto Cervo parc ferme and travel 31km to Olbia. Following a 10-minute morning service, crews will contest a loop of three stages, south west of the service park, before returning for a 20-minute service. This will be followed by a single pass through the short Lovia Avra stage, before a repeat of the morning's three stages. The first stage (SS7) starts at 0854hrs and the last (SS13) at 1643hrs.


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team