Stage set for WRC finale on Subaru World Rally Team's home soil Just a few hours south of the Subaru World Rally Team's headquarters, the gravel roads of Wales Rally GB will be the scene of the finale of the 2008 World Rally Championship season...
Stage set for WRC finale on Subaru World Rally Team's home soil
Just a few hours south of the Subaru World Rally Team's headquarters, the gravel roads of Wales Rally GB will be the scene of the finale of the 2008 World Rally Championship season on 4 -- 7 December. Run on Wales' notoriously tricky forest tracks, mud, rain and fog are sure to feature heavily throughout the weekend.
The rally is split between the cities of Swansea and Cardiff. The service park is based in Swansea's SA1 waterfront development whilst the event begins with a ceremonial start outside the Cardiff Law Courts on Thursday evening at 1800hrs. Returning to Cardiff for a spectator stage inside the Millennium Stadium on Saturday at 1815hrs, the rally consists of 19 stages and a total of 348.99 competitive kilometres. Wales in December is notoriously cold, and the temperature is expected to be just a few degrees Celsius by day, dipping below freezing overnight.
"SWRT has always enjoyed a great record of success on Rally GB and it is an event we therefore look forward to" said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. "Being slightly later in the season this year I am sure the conditions are going to be even more challenging than usual with a strong likelihood of ice and even snow in the forests of mid-Wales. Rally GB marks the end of a very long season during which we have steadily improved the performance of our new car, and I am sure that after recent testing both Petter and Chris are looking forward to starting the event."
In addition to a handful of stages that will be run in the dark, the opening day of the rally offers a further two twists to make it more challenging. Six of the opening day's eight stages have not been used on a WRC round in recent years, winding north through the mountains towards Aberystwyth and Newtown. Furthermore, there is only a remote service at midday, meaning that crews have limited resources and are only able to use spare parts that are carried inside the rally cars.
"Day one will be critical as there's no proper service, so you only need to do something silly or puncture a radiator, and look at the kilometres you'll struggle to complete" said Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team Operations Director. "It's a remote service so we're only permitted to fit parts that are kept within the car. You only need to look at what happened in Sweden earlier this year when Sebastien Loeb had a problem, and with only a similar remote service, it virtually retired him from the event.
"There are three new stages, each run twice, which have been re-introduced from past years. The first day will be majorly critical to the outcome of the event due to the number of kilometres and the limited service. With the expected conditions, it will be wet and there's a good chance of fog in the tree line which will make a big difference. You have to have a lot of confidence to be able to attack in these conditions.
"It's been very wet recently, so it's tricky to predict how quickly some sections of the stages will deteriorate. We won't see the same extreme conditions experienced on Rally Japan though as in general the GB roads have very hard bases. There might be short sections that are softer, but overall they're much harder than those in Japan as they're regularly used and highly maintained logging roads.
"It's the simple things that can make the difference here -- not carrying too much extra weight on the car with all the mud that gets collected, having the lights calibrated and working at 100 per cent in the few dark stages, and having a good windscreen demist system are all essential" continued Howarth.
"The Manufacturers' Championship is still to play for on this final round, and both Citroen and Ford absolutely want it so will be pushing hard. The Ford is remarkably good in the expected conditions, as are their drivers Hirvonen and Latvala so they'll be fast for sure."
On what will be their 125th WRC event together with the Subaru World Rally Team, Petter Solberg believes his excellent working relationship with co-driver Phil Mills is critical to their success on this event.
"I like the rally a lot and we're normally fast when it's foggy or raining with lots of mud so I'm looking forward to it" said Petter Solberg. "I think pace notes play a huge part here. It's about perfection with the notes and the way Phil gives them and helps with judging distances when visibility is poor. That's where he is very strong. In the past we've generally always been fighting for a win or fighting at the top here. We had some good speed on Saturday and Sunday in Japan which gives us a positive going into GB. There are still a few little things we need to work on for sure, but there was another small improvement with the car in the last test."
Chris Atkinson echoes Paul Howarth in his belief that speed on Rally GB comes from having the confidence to attack the treacherous forest roads when visibility is often poor.
"GB is one of the trickiest rallies and one that takes probably a few years to get used to, but last year we had some good speed there" said Chris Atkinson. "I'm still cautious as it's hard to know after a one day test where you really stand and we've got a few things still to sort out, but if you have confidence you can go a long way in the tricky conditions. Especially this year with some new stages I think confidence is the most important thing. It's obviously quite difficult driving in fog, and there's a fair chance of it being icy as well so they'll be some of the most tricky and unpredictable conditions we've driven in. We'll go there with the strategy that we'll drive as fast as we can from the start, as we always do. I don't think only having a remote service on the first day will have much impact on that strategy though as if you have a problem on any rally you're usually out of the running anyway."
The Subaru World Rally Team has entered two Impreza WRC2008s for Wales Rally GB. Petter Solberg and Phil Mills will drive number five, and team-mates Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot number six.
The Subaru World Rally Team have won on Rally GB a total of nine times over the years, four victories of which belong to Petter and Phil. They won every year from 2002 -- 2005, although the latter was marred by the tragic death of Michael Park.
Between the rallies
After Rally Japan, Petter and Chris stayed in Tokyo for an extra two days to visit a Japanese publishing house and to meet with members of FHI and STI. In the four weeks between Rally Japan and Wales Rally GB there was also a three-day pre-event test, of which Petter and Phil completed two days and Chris and Stephane one day. Petter celebrated his birthday on 18 November, and Chris will celebrate his on 30 November, two days prior to the start of the recce in Wales.