Rallye Sanremo: Subaru leg one summary

A disappointing day for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. At the end of Leg 1, Tommi Makinen holds overnight eighth place while his team-mate Petter Solberg retired when his car ran out of fuel 2km short of the service area after SS6. On the day's...

A disappointing day for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. At the end of Leg 1, Tommi Makinen holds overnight eighth place while his team-mate Petter Solberg retired when his car ran out of fuel 2km short of the service area after SS6. On the day's six stages, both drivers struggled to find the rally-winning form they showed in Australia last month. However, with almost 200 competitive kilometres remaining, Tommi and the team remain committed to achieving the best result over the next two days.

Stage Reports

SS1 0838hrs Perinaldo 1 (12.4km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 7:56.2

The opening test of Rallye Sanremo was last used in 2001 and starts with a narrow uphill section which cuts through dense woodland. The road is often littered with leaves and dirt, making it extremely slippery, and it was on this section that Richard Burns dramatically crashed out two years ago. This year though there were no repeats of that first stage retirement and all the leading competitors completed the stage intact. Citroen's tarmac specialist Sebastien Loeb was quickest, with Ford's 22-year old Belgian Francois Duval second. Current World Champion Marcus Gronholm was third for Peugeot. Duval's team-mate Markko Martin was slowed by an overheating engine, caused by leaves blocking the ducted flow of air to his car's radiator. In the 555 Subaru camp, Petter Solberg was 6th fastest and Makinen 9th.

SS2 0926hrs Ceppo 1 (36.42km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 24:05.5

World Champion contender Loeb made it two from two, with another stage win on the marathon 36km Ceppo section. The Frenchman was almost 15 seconds clear of second placed Marcus Gronholm, while Francois Duval was a full 20 seconds back in third. After 48 competitive kilometres, the trio held the same order on the overall leader board. The stage took crews on a winding 10km climb up Colle Langan to the 1,501 metre summit of Mount Ceppo, followed by an almost completely enclosed wooded section and a high-speed descent back down towards Sanremo. The already formidable challenge was made more complex by patches of dense fog on the high altitude sections. Toni Gardemeister became the first works-team retirement of the rally when the brakes on his Skoda Fabia failed. Driving on a mountain road with a sheer-drop to his right, the Finn was forced to drive into the rock-face on the other side to slow down. The car rolled, but Toni and his co-driver were unharmed. Eighth and eleventh quickest through the stages respectively, 555 Subaru drivers Solberg and Makinen felt their tyre choice for the opening tests had been too soft. Solberg's car was also affected when the suspension top-mount on his car's front-right corner was damaged 12kms before the finish line. After the stage, crews returned to Imperia for a 20 minute service-halt.

SS3 1225hrs Cosio 1 (19.19km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 11:56.3

With new tyres and refreshed cars the competitors drove 36km north to the town of Cosio and the 19km SS3. Although bright and sunny on the coast the weather in Cosio was overcast and humid. His leaf-blockage problem remedied in service, Markko Martin's Focus was back to full power and he pushed hard, recording the fastest time and putting an end to Loeb's run of stage wins. Loeb was next quickest, but five seconds adrift of his Estonian rival, while Duval tied third with the winner of this event for the past three years, Gilles Panizzi. Ford's 23-year-old Finn, Mikko Hirvonen became the second works-team retirement when the cam-belt broke on the engine of his Focus WRC2.

SS4 1317hrs San Bartolomeo 1 (25.31km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 14:47.2

Another classic speed test through the Southern Alps brought another stage win for Markko Martin. Loeb was right behind him in second, but the two pacesetters were almost ten seconds ahead of third-fastest man Gilles Panizzi. Looking to the overall table, Loeb held the lead with Martin second and Gronholm third. Panizzi was expected to be one of the front-runners on this event, but he struggled to find his form and after SS4 lay 41 seconds off the top-spot. Championship leader Richard Burns was also uncharacteristically slow. The Peugeot driver reported that he couldn't find the necessary rhythm or confidence on the tarmac roads. A frustrating stage too for 555 Subaru drivers Solberg and Makinen who were eighth and twelfth fastest respectively. After the finish control crews headed back to Imperia for another 20-minute service halt.

SS5 1554hrs Perinaldo 2 (12.4km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 7:45.6

Loeb was quickest on the repeated Perinaldo stage, run earlier as SS1, but once again there wasn't much to separate Sebastien from his closest rival Markko Martin who on this occasion was 0.5s behind. Gronholm was third and Panizzi fourth. With the benefit of a morning practice, and in humid and drier conditions, most competitors improved on their earlier times. Loeb and Martin were both 10 seconds quicker over the 12.4km. Another consistent time from Tommi Makinen was enough for him to move ahead of Richard Burns into tenth overall, while his 555 Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg held eighth.

SS6 1642hrs Ceppo 1 (36.42km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 23:38.7

The final test of the day was a second pass through the 36km Ceppo stage, which was run earlier as SS2. As he had done earlier, Loeb was quickest and also managed to beat his earlier time by 25 seconds. Crucially, Loeb pulled further ahead of Markko Martin who although second, was almost 10 seconds in arrears on the stage. Ahead of tomorrow's second leg Loeb holds the overnight lead with Martin 32 seconds behind in second and Gronholm another 17 seconds further back in third. Lying eighth after a difficult start to the rally, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg retired on the road section to Imperia after the stage. Almost within sight of the in-control, and despite leaving the previous service with the same fuel load as his team-mate Tommi Makinen, the Norwegian was forced to stop when his car ran out of fuel with 2km to go.

Team Quotes

David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "It's been a disappointing day for the team who have worked very hard. We've made some good progress but clearly other teams have made steps too. On a positive note we have learnt a lot here today and know what we need to do to close the gap in these conditions."

Petter Solberg: "The team tried their best this weekend and I've tried my hardest too. The car felt really good to drive but looking at the times I'm scratching my head. We've come straight from winning first place on gravel, but now we seem to be missing something. The only thing to do is keep working hard, remain positive and work for a better result on the next event.

Tommi Makinen: "The car felt better with the tyres I used at the end of the day and I'd say the set up is quite good now. Tomorrow everything needs to be sorted for the long stages. Those are the ones that make all the difference here. I'm going to try my best."

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "Prior to Rallye Sanremo we carried out extensive testing on a new type of Pirelli PZero RX tarmac rally tyre. Test results had been very positive however today's position is disappointing. We had hoped to be part of the leading pack. Both drivers have used the new construction, which has proved faster than the previous evolution. We hope for an improved performance tomorrow and will work with the team in order to improve things ahead of Corsica and Catalunya this month."

Team Talk -- Italian Pirelli Facts

* Rallye Sanremo is the Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli's home event. Enjoying an exclusive tyre partnership with the 555 Subaru World Rally team in the 2003 WRC season, Pirelli has been active in the sport of rallying for many years before 1973 when the current format was established.

* On it's debut WRC season back in 1973, Pirelli scored a win in Poland with Fiat and another in Austria with BMW. Including Petter's victory in Australia last month, the total amount of victories scored by Pirelli in the WRC is 128.

* Pirelli's wins have come with nine different manufacturers: Fiat, BMW, Lancia, Opel, Toyota, Ford, Audi, VW and most recently Subaru.

* --and with 25 different drivers: Warmbold, Pinto, Munari, Andruet, Waldegaard, Rohrl, Alen, Mikkola, Bacchelli, Salonen, Darniche, Vatanen, Blomqvist, Kankkunen, Toivonen, Biasion, Eriksson, Sainz, Schwarz, Cunico, C. McRae, Liatti, Burns, Tommi Makinen and Solberg.

* Pirelli's 100th victory came at the 1997 Safari Rally, when Colin McRae won with a Subaru Impreza WRC. The car didn't receive a single puncture over the entire event.

* Pirelli has been the tyre choice of 18 World Rally title holders. 11 Manufacturers' (five with Lancia 1974, '75, '76, 83 and '87, three with Fiat in 1977, '78 and '80 and three with Subaru in 1995, '96 and '97) and seven Drivers' (Rohrl 1980 / Vatanen 1981 / Kankkunen 1987 / Sainz 1990 and '92 / C. McRae 1995 / Burns 2001)

Tomorrow's Leg

Leg two is the longest in terms of competitive kilometres, but it's also the one with the least number of stages. Competitors will collect their cars from Sanremo Parc Ferme from 0700hrs and drive the 40km along the coast to the Imperia service park. The real action starts at 0920hrs with the legendary Teglia stage, which at 52.3km is the longest tarmac stage in the WRC. Crews then repeat the Cosio and San Bartolomeo sections, previously run on Leg one, before a second pass through Teglia and a return to parc ferme in Sanremo.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team