After a thrilling performance on Leg two of the Swedish Rally, Petter Solberg has moved into the lead of the event ahead of tomorrow's final six stages. Locked in a close battle with Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb throughout the Leg, ...
After a thrilling performance on Leg two of the Swedish Rally, Petter Solberg has moved into the lead of the event ahead of tomorrow's final six stages. Locked in a close battle with Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb throughout the Leg, Solberg posted three fastest stage times to move up from second place into the lead, 12.6 seconds ahead of second placed Marcus Gronholm. Continuing his remarkable WRC car debut, Subaru's Chris Atkinson moved five places up the leaderboard to end the day tenth overall, setting a fourth fastest time in the process. His team-mate Stéphane Sarrazin, who was concentrating on gaining experience of the specialist conditions, ended the day in seventeenth.
SS8: 0759 Sundsjon 1 (20.78km)
While spectators lining the first stage of Leg two shivered in a temperature of -6°C, the competition in the cars was hotting up, as event leaders Marcus Gronholm, Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb jostled for position. Lying in third place overall, Sebastien Loeb was quickest through the 20km stage, with event leader Gronholm second fastest and Solberg third. At the finish, less than ten seconds separated the trio. Starting in the village of Sundsjön, the stage featured a hard-packed base of frozen gravel with a light dusting of overnight snow on top. Running 13th, 15th and 16th through the stage respectively, Subaru drivers Solberg, Atkinson and Sarrazin encountered a tricky road surface of ice and gravel. Chris finished seventh fastest, ahead of drivers with far more experience than himself, while Stéphane felt the studs he'd chosen were too long and he was unable to push as hard as he'd have liked. Toni Gardemeister spun his Focus 5km from the start line and flattened its exhaust, which prevented the engine from running at full power. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS9. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 10:55.6
SS9: 0848 Vargasen 1 (24.79km)
Petter Solberg stormed through the frozen gravel stage from Vargasen to finish 7.6 seconds ahead of the rest of the field and reclaim the overall lead. At the finish, he lay 8.4 seconds ahead of Gronholm and 15.8 seconds ahead of Loeb, who spun. This was despite suffering with a misting windscreen for the last 5km, which forced co-driver Phil Mills to lower his window to circulate some cool air in the cockpit. Ford's Toni Gardemeister had stopped on the roadside before the start to reopen his Focus' flattened exhaust with a jack. He completed the test, but was fourteenth fastest and ended the stage 30 seconds off the winning pace. Including three jumps and a tricky opening section, SS9 featured the infamous Colin's Crest 10km from the start. Attracting hundreds of spectators every year, the jump can launch the WRC cars as high as two metres off the ground. Growing in confidence at the wheel of his Impreza, Atkinson was tenth fastest, while Sarrazin lost around 15 seconds with a spin. After the stage was complete, crews returned to Hagfors for a 30-minute service. Fastest Stage Time:Solberg (Subaru) 13:45.2
SS10: 1123 Fredriksberg (20.13km)
As the temperature rose to -3°C, the 20km stage from Fredriksberg featured a hard-packed frozen gravel base with a thin covering of snow. Starting with a narrow wooded section, before moving to a series of open and flowing roads along the edge of a lake, the test concluded in the town of Gravendal. As the battle for the overall lead continued to rage, this time it was Marcus Gronholm who was quickest, with Solberg second and Loeb third. However, at the finish, there was no change to the top three standings and Subaru's Solberg maintained a 6.2 second lead overall. Feeling happier with the set-up of his Peugeot 307, Markko Martin was fourth fastest, while Subaru's fresh recruit, Chris Atkinson, was eighth. Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli suffered a spin and stall, lost around 15 seconds and was twelfth quickest. Once the stage was complete, crews drove a 23km road section to the start of SS11. Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 11:26.3
SS11: 1212 Lejan (26.40km)
As the longest stage of the event, the 26km test from Lejen gave drivers an opportunity to make up time and the leading trio, Solberg, Gronholm and Loeb, set off at a blistering pace. First to cross the line was Loeb, who smashed his previous stage record by 12 seconds, but then Petter went one better and completed the test 1.5 seconds faster. However, it was Gronholm who had the edge and the Finn went quicker than both of them to take the stage win and reclaim the overall lead - by 0.1 seconds. Subaru's Chris Atkinson also delivered a sparking performance and, contesting his first rally in a WRC car and his first event in Sweden, was fourth fastest, ahead of Harri Rovanpera and Galli. A notoriously difficult stage, the Lejen test was littered with large rocks that demanded the ultimate in precision driving. Citroen's Francois Duval was caught out when he punctured his Xsara's front left tyre on a boulder, stopped to change the wheel and dropped almost five minutes to the leaders. Markko Martin also had to contest the stage in his 307 without first or second gear, while re-starter Kristian Sohlberg went off the road in his Focus and out of the event. Stéphane Sarrazin reported a steering vibration after contact with a rock towards the end of the stage. Once complete, the remaining crews returned to Hagfors for a 30-minute service. Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 13:25.4
SS12: 1500 Sundsjon 2 (20.78km)
The repeated stage from Sundsjön saw crews complete an icy, narrow opening section that featured a number of large, scattered rocks, followed by a fast, 11km downhill section to the finish. Competing on the stage's hard-packed road surface, Loeb shaved 17.8 seconds off his previous Sundsjön time and was fastest, while Gronholm was second fastest and Solberg third. There were problems for Skoda's Mattias Ekstrom, who suffered with power steering problems on his Fabia and lost over a minute to the leaders. As a result he dropped from eighth position to twelfth overall. Australian driver Atkinson was eleventh fastest, while Sarrazin was nineteenth. Once the stage was complete, crews moved to the start of SS13. Fastest Stage Time:Loeb (Citroen) 10:37.8
SS13: 1549 Vargasen 2 (24.79km)
Having altered his Impreza's differential settings on the roadside before the start of the stage, Petter Solberg stormed through the repeated Vargasen test to snatch back the overall lead from Gronholm by 8.3 seconds. Marcus was second fastest, while Loeb was 12.5 seconds off Petter's pace for third. Despite light snowfall, the stage conditions did not alter and the driving line was almost 100 per cent frozen gravel due to repeated use. After an impressive performance aboard his Mitsubishi, Gigi Galli suffered a broken driveshaft, lost a minute to the leaders and overall fourth, while Ekstrom continued to struggle without power steering in his Skoda and lost almost three minutes. Once the stage was complete, crews moved to the start of the Hagfors Sprint. Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 13:36.0
SS14: 1713 Hagfors Sprint 2 (1.86km)
The second and final sprint round the icy Hagfors Super Special featured more close racing from the WRC drivers as temperatures plummeted to -2°C. Petter was fastest through the floodlit test and negotiated its sequence of ninety-degree turns to take his third stage win of the day and end the day 12.6 seconds ahead overall. Galli continued to lose time with his broken driveshaft and fell from fifth to eighth overall, while a late charge from Daniel Carlsson saw the Swede finish second fastest and move up to ninth position overall. After the stage was complete crews returned to Hagfors for a 45-minute service.Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 2:01.9
I'm very pleased to be leading tonight, it's been difficult on the stages - judging the amount of grip is tough when it changes on just about every corner! Pirelli and the guys in the team did a great job working out a tyre strategy for today, and I think this really helped on the last stages where I was able to extend the lead a little. We've had a good fight with the other guys, trading times through the stages, but now I'm in a good position and I'm going to do all I can tomorrow to win. Of course, there's still a long way to go and Marcus and Seb are tough competitors, but I have to admit it would be a dream result for me to win here in Sweden.
It's been a tough day in places, but I came here to learn and that's exactly what I'm doing. It's a bit disappointing that I haven't been able to push as hard as I'd have liked to, but with a spin early on, and the steering vibration later in the day, I haven't been able to settle into a consistent driving rhythm yet. I'm looking forward to Leg three and hoping for a trouble-free run.
We came to the rally with the intention of improving throughout the event and I'm happy that we've done that today. I haven't consciously been trying to go any faster, but the feeling in the car is much better and I've made less mistakes. There was more snow around during the stages late in the morning, which was good but a little tricky. While the conditions are very tricky I tried to play it safe and follow the line of the guys ahead and I think that paid off a bit. Generally I felt a lot more comfortable in the car today and I'm looking forward to getting more kilometres in the bag tomorrow.
Team Principal, David Lapworth
A great day for Petter. In these conditions it's so difficult to judge how hard to push the tyres, if you go too hard in the gravel you lose performance when you reach the ice and snow and the challenge has been finding the correct balance. On top of that, Petter's pace has been tremendous and yet again he's impressed us in the way he's been able to respond to the pressure of his rivals. But with all due respect to Petter, Chris has been the star of the rally for me. In the context of someone who had never driven a rally car before Monday and never driven in a snow rally, his times today have been amazing. His challenge now is to maintain that momentum and finish tomorrow with experience of the whole route so he can come back next year fighting for a strong overall position. Stéphane similarly has performed very well for someone who has never even competed on a gravel rally before - let alone on snow. Probably one of the most impressive features of the rally so far has been the durability of the Pirelli tyres. It's only a few years ago that even a few kilometres of frozen gravel was enough to destroy the studs and we often saw cars come off the stage with as many as half of them missing. This year, in probably the worst conditions I've seen, the tyres have maintained a very high level of performance with almost no stud loss.
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
Thanks to the stability of our tyres with our new unique construction system, Petter has been able to fight at the front relying on a consistent and rapid performance from his tyres all day. I'd like to add a special congratulations to Chris who has performed excellently on his first WRC event with the team.
Sunday 13 February 2005
The third and final Leg starts tomorrow at 0540hrs, when the first car will leave Karlstad parc ferme. Including three stages in the morning, which will then be repeated in the afternoon, crews will face a final 113.86 competitive kilometres. The event will conclude when the winning car crosses the finish ramp in Karlstad at 1504hrs.