Petter Solberg took the overall lead of Rally Japan on the second special stage away from his young teammate Chris Atkinson, but Atkinson answered back by the end of the third special. The battle for the position between the two Subaru drivers ...
Petter Solberg took the overall lead of Rally Japan on the second special stage away from his young teammate Chris Atkinson, but Atkinson answered back by the end of the third special. The battle for the position between the two Subaru drivers continued until the afternoon stages, when he fell back, allowing Sebastien Loeb and Marcus Gronholm to move past him onto the podium positions.
"It was tougher in the afternoon," said the Atkinson, the first Australian to lead a WRC event. "I didn't have the advantage of the road position that I had in the morning."
Indeed, Atkinson credited his strong start to having run well down the order, with Loeb and Solberg having "cleaned" the roads ahead of him. When all was said and done on the first day of the World Rally Championship round 13 competition.
Solberg's edge over Loeb at the end of the day was nearly 23 seconds, the Citroen driver having made a charge to the top of the leaderboard after a rare spin for the defending champion on the first stage. The Frenchman recovered by setting the fastest time on the second and seventh special stages.
Marcus Gronholm sits third overall, close to 35 seconds adrift of the leader. The Finn finished first on the sixth special, but lost time to Solberg and Loeb due to a tire problem on the eighth special stage.
"I've not had a brilliant feeling today, and we lost time on the penultimate stage when the tread came off a tyre towards the start of the stage," explained the Finn. "The car was all over the place and it was very difficult to control."
The two-time WRC champion is still bothered about the recent loss of teammate Michael Park: "I'm pleased to get to the end of today and I will do my best to push some more tomorrow, although the truth is that I am not feeling very confident."
Atkinson still has his best start in WRC in his debut season, in fourth place at the end of the leg, one minute and 35 seconds back when he lost 45 seconds on the eighth stage. Earlier, the Subaru driver scored his first stage win on SS1 and followed that with a victory on the third stage.
The Norwegian was fastest on the fourth and eighth stages in a day filled with six drivers setting wins on the nine specials of the day.
Mitsubishi's two-car team showed that their performance at the Rally of Great Britain was a sign of the future as Gigi Galli was fastest on SS5 and Harri Rovanpera finished out the day with the win on the ninth special stage placing himself fifth on the leaderboard with Galli in sixth.