After a determined effort that saw the team work through the night to repair Petter Solberg's damaged car, both 555 Subaru World Rally Team entries took the start in Ajaccio this morning. Both Solberg and Tommi Makinen enjoyed a trouble free day.
After a determined effort that saw the team work through the night to repair Petter Solberg's damaged car, both 555 Subaru World Rally Team entries took the start in Ajaccio this morning. Both Solberg and Tommi Makinen enjoyed a trouble free day. Solberg put in a strong performance over the Leg's 95km to hold overnight eighth position, less than 45 seconds off the lead, while Makinen is twelfth. With unsettled weather and rain showers forecast for Leg two, the character of rally could change dramatically. A wet Leg two would be welcomed by both Tommi and Petter, who have previously demonstrated their confidence in these conditions.
SS1 1011hrs Cargese -- Paomia (14.64km)
With no service before the day's first stage, competitors left parc ferme and headed directly to the start of the short Cargese test, 52km north of Ajaccio. Included in the starters was 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg. Following his accident during Thursday's shakedown, Subaru mechanics worked non-stop through the night to repair his damaged Impreza, completing the work at 0700hrs this morning. After a cautious start through the first few kilometres, the Norwegian quickly regained his confidence and built up his speed to finish eighth fastest. Carlos Sainz was quickest for the stage win, while Richard Burns was second and Markko Martin third. It wasn't a good start for Skoda. Didier Auriol, a previous six times winner of the event, failed to even begin the stage due to an electrical problem in his Fabia WRC, while his team-mate Toni Gardemeister was 13th. Despite the threat of rain, the road surface through the abrasive test remained dry, with loose sand lying on many of the corners. After the finish, crews travelled 9.36km to the start of SS2.
SS2 1044hrs Vico -- Pont Du Liamone (15.49km)
With Leg one including stages that were new to all the drivers, lesser-experienced competitors such as Citroen's Sebastien Loeb, and Ford's Markko Martin could compete on a far more level playing field. Charging through the narrow and rough Vico test, which took crews through the Corsican villages of Appricciani and Coggia, Loeb was fastest for the stage win, while Martin was 0.8 seconds slower for second with Gronholm third. The test's slippery, sandy corners proved no problem for Subaru's Petter Solberg who was sixth fastest, ahead of Burns and McRae. His team-mate Makinen was eleventh. Last year's winner and renowned sealed surface expert Gilles Panizzi was ninth in his Peugeot 206WRC due to a gearbox problem. Crews then moved directly to the start of SS3.
SS3 1117hrs Golfe De La Liscia -- Sarrola Carcopino (17.52km)
The longest stage of the day, the fast and technical Golfe de la Liscia test, and a stage win for overall leader Markko Martin. Finishing 3.1 seconds ahead of Loeb, who complained that his tyres were too soft, the Estonian recorded an average speed of 98kph to consolidate his position and end the 47.65km loop with a 3.4 second advantage. No such luck for Frenchman Panizzi. Still hampered by a gearbox problem, which was making the car difficult to handle, the Peugeot driver dropped a further 17 seconds to the leaders, while McRae too lost time due to a transmission-related problem. With no sign of last year's fog, weather conditions through the stage remained clear and dry, with gravel crews reporting a cleaner road surface than on the preceding stages. After the finish, crews made the 18.32km journey back to Ajaccio for the first service of the day.
SS4 1423hrs Cargese -- Paomia (14.64km)
A bitter-sweet test for the Ford team as Markko Martin lost the overall lead and fell to seventh, but the team's young gun Francois Duval scooped the win by a margin of 3.6 seconds. With sand and gravel having been pulled onto the road during the first pass through the twisty stage, the Estonian suffered a spin on the slippery surface just before the finish, which cost him valuable seconds. Duval was quickest, with new overall leader Loeb second and a rejuvenated McRae, third. Looking to the Subaru camp, Petter Solberg was tenth fastest, while an over-eager Tommi Makinen collected a ten-second penalty after a jump-start. Last used in the 1990s, the tightening narrow route, which runs from the coast at Cargese to Paomia, brought no leading retirements, and after the finish crews moved directly to the start of SS5.
SS5 1456hrs Vico -- Pont Du Liamone (15.49km)
Despite the conditions being more slippery on the second pass through the repeated 47.65km loop, Markko Martin stormed through to shave a second off Loeb's previous Vico win, as he began his bid to snatch back the overall lead. But Loeb maintained the pace. The Frenchman was second fastest to remain at the top, while Duval was third to take the same position overall. Starting with an abrasive section, the route took crews through the mountain village of Coggia, across a 7km stretch of new, smooth asphalt, before concluding with a final fast hairpin descent to the finish. After completing the stage, crews moved to the start of SS6, the final test of the day.
SS6 1529hrs Golfe De La Liscia -- Sarrola Carcopino (17.52km)
With all the competitors commenting on the slippery nature of the repeated stages, many drove cautiously through the final 17.52km test. Martin notched up another win and moved up to fifth on the overall leaderboard, while his team-mate Duval was just half a second slower, enough to snatch overall second from the far more experienced current world champion Marcus Gronholm. The Finn ended the day in third. Loeb was third fastest, equal with Carlos Sainz, and ended the day as overnight leader, 3.9 seconds clear of the rest of the field. Gilles Panizzi's miserable day continued with the Frenchman managing to finish only 16th fastest on the final test. He described his car as 'undriveable', due to a set up problem.
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "Overall, we're happy with today's performance. I think understandably Petter was a little nervous to start with, but he quickly regained his confidence. Our target today was to keep in touch with the leaders and take no risks, especially as there is rain forecast for tomorrow. A few seconds gained or lost today will not seem too important if conditions are wet, as the differences then are much bigger. The team has done a terrific job in the last 24 hours. Things are certainly looking much better now than they did this time yesterday!"
Petter Solberg: "Today was not bad at all, much better than I expected. There were moments yesterday when it looked like we wouldn't be able to start at all, so I'm quite happy to be here! Despite what it's been through, the car feels good, I think we're well placed at this stage in the rally and the weather should make things interesting tomorrow."
Tommi Makinen: "I didn't feel 100 per cent confident this morning, but we changed a setting on the rear suspension and then the car felt much better and was easier to drive. I felt there was something lacking on the final three stages, but they were very sandy and it was difficult. The tyres have performed well. It's a balance, I've been driving to maintain them, but have also pushing as hard as I can. Corsica has always been a funny rally for me. There is nothing wrong with it and I like it a lot, but I always seem to struggle here. Tomorrow, I will take each stage as it comes and push for a good result."
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "Both drivers have today used the new construction of Pirelli PZero RX tarmac tyre developed in the two weeks since Sanremo. Clearly we have closed the performance gap, however the rate of progress has been limited by time. This afternoon Petter chose a harder compound of Pirelli PZero RX tyre, which with hindsight was the incorrect choice due to the unclean stages caused by second usage. The forecast tomorrow is for rain so we can see the driver either selecting a full wet Pirelli PZero RE pattern or a softer compound of Pirelli PZero RX pattern."