Atkinson remains fourth in Rally Finland
- 5th August 2007, 8:09am
The Subaru pairing of Chris Atkinson / Stephane Prevot are in fourth place at the end of today’s second, and longest, leg of Rally Finland. Atkinson had a trouble-free run and was one of the five fastest drivers on each of the leg’s nine stages.
Despite contesting the rally only three times before, the Australian traded times with far more experienced drivers, and even beat the current World Champion on the fearsome 33km Ouninpohja stage. The Subaru of Xevi Pons / Xevi Amigo holds sixth overall, with the Spaniard increasing in confidence with every kilometre. The team’s lead crew of Petter Solberg / Phil Mills continued to struggle with handling difficulties and their car was eventually withdrawn after SS15.Stage Summaries
SS12: 0717hrs Kaipolanvuori (13.46km)
Crews collected their cars from the overnight Parc Ferme from 0600hrs and drove straight to a 10-minute service. The first test of leg two was Kaipolanvuori, based near the town of Jamsa, 60km south west of Jyvaskyla. Another new route, it is one of the narrowest and fastest of the rally - 5th and 6th gear most of the way. And with the bright morning sun hanging low in the sky, it was made even trickier. Xevi Pons, running fifth on the road, was the first of the Subaru World Rally Team to drive the stage, and was happy with his performance. Petter Solberg was 11th on the road and showed a good pace to set the fourth fastest time, just ahead of Chris Atkinson who was fifth. “Yesterday was a mixed day for me, but today it's much better, we have less oversteer so I feel more confident with the handling,” said Petter.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 6m 53.4s
SS13: 0830hrs Juupajoki (22.14km)
The furthest stage from the service park in leg two, Juupajoki mixes narrow forest tracks with a flat-out motorway-like section mid-way through. Running 12th on the road, Atkinson recorded the fourth fastest time, only one second behind World Champion Sebastien Loeb. Petter Solberg was the sixth fastest driver, while Xevi Pons put in another good performance to record the 10th fastest time and move closer to the man ahead of him on the leader board, Urmo Aava.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 11m 19.3s
SS14: 0914hrs Ouninpohja 1 (33.01km)
The final challenge of the morning loop was Ouninpohja, one of the fastest and most famous stages in the WRC calendar. After average speeds crept above the WRC maximum in 2004, organisers split the stage into two shorter sections. But for 2007 it was back in its full-length format, with three new chicanes designed to bring the speeds down. On easily the most challenging stage of the rally, Chris Atkinson delivered his best performance so far, beating Loeb outright to set the third fastest time. Pons too seemed to revel in the conditions. On his first attempt at the stage in a Subaru the Spaniard was seventh fastest, to leap into eighth place overall and a potential championship points-scoring position. Petter Solberg did not have such a good time and reported difficulties with the handling of his car which felt similar to the ones he had experienced early on leg one. The Norwegian dropped 1m 50s to the leaders and slipped to seventh place overall.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 15m 35.3s
SS15: 1215hrs Leustu (21.27km)
After a 30-minute service crews headed back into the forests south of Jyvaskyla and the 21km Leustu stage. Seemingly right at home in the classic Finnish conditions Chris Atkinson drove tactically, taking few risks to protect his fourth place overall but driving fast enough to keep the pressure on Loeb. Pons also had an eye on the overall leader board and his ninth-fastest time, and the retirement of Dani Sordo, moved him up to sixth overall. But even after a thorough service before the stage, Petter was still off the pace in his Impreza and, in the circumstances, the Subaru team withdrew him from the leg. SWRT managing director said: “We haven’t been able to identify the problem Petter is experiencing with the car, and with 96 stage kilometres until the next service, there is little point in him continuing at this speed. The only sensible thing to do now is to retire the car from the leg and bring it back to service so we can begin a thorough analysis.”
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 10m 12.6s
SS16: 1324hrs Ouninpohja 2 (33.01km)
With Solberg out, it was up to Atkinson and Pons to fly the flag for Subaru and get the best possible result on Sunday. On the repeat run of the longest stage of the rally, Atkinson put in another measured drive to consolidate fourth. “I’m in no position to relax just yet,” said Chris, “but I guess I’m driving at 99 per cent rather than the 110 per cent I was giving it earlier.” Xevi Pons brought his Impreza across the line in the sixth fastest time – his best finish of the rally so far. “I’m pleased with my performance on that stage,” said Pons. “It’s a very tricky piece of road for me and I had a puncture for the second half too, so I’m very happy!”
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 15m 19.8s
SS17: 1510hrs Ehikki 1 (14.88km)
After a 15-minute remote service in Jamsa, 60km from Jyvaskyla, stage 17 kicked off the final loop of leg two. Chris Atkinson recorded a solid fifth fastest time to remain firmly in fourth overall. Aware that there were still 104 competitive kilometres to run to the finish of leg three, Chris was by no means letting-up and was firmly maintaining his pace. Xevi Pons finished with ninth fastest time, growing ever more confident with each stage.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 6m 52.2s
SS18: 1623hrs Himos (18.56km)
In the shade of the Finnish forest’s canopy, Himos is a dark stage even in the sunny conditions in which the section was run. Chris Atkinson was fifth fastest, while Xevi Pons completed the 18.5km in the seventh fastest time, and extended his advantage over Mitsubishi driver Urmo Aava by nine seconds.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 10m 09.8s
SS19: 1719hrs Ehikki 2 (14.88km)
For the penultimate stage of leg two, the drivers returned to the 15km section known as Ehikki. Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot were fifth fastest with Xevi Pons and Xavier Amigo equal seventh. Despite Henning Solberg closing the gap to Chris slightly, Atkinson’s advantage sat at one minute and 17 seconds ahead of the final stage.
Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 6m 47.4s
SS20: 1754hrs Surkee (14.89km)
Following a string of stages in which Xevi Pons increased his advantage over Aava in their leg-long battle for overall position, during the final stage of the day Xevi’s gap was reduced slightly but not sufficiently to lose position. In his first rally with the Subaru World Rally Team, the Spaniard was sixth at the end of leg two. Chris Atkinson’s stage time was good enough for fourth, rounding off an encouraging day for him.
Fastest time: Hirvonen (Ford) 8m 13.6s
Subaru World Rally Team managing director, Richard Taylor: "Chris has driven very well today; he made no mistakes and has done an excellent job of consolidating his fourth place. Xevi has also had a positive day – especially as this was only his second competitive day in the car. Both drivers are well positioned ahead of tomorrow’s final leg, and I hope we’ll get two cars in the top-six. For Petter it was a different story. Since withdrawing him from the leg we have looked over the car and decided he will not rejoin the rally tomorrow. There is no chance for him to score any drivers’ points now, and the decision will also safeguard his car’s engine which we must use in Germany. Safety was also a major consideration. It is in Petter’s nature to push as hard as possible, but we are not prepared for him to do that in a car in which we have less than 100 per cent confidence. We believe this is the most responsible course of action. Tonight Petter’s car will leave for our UK headquarters so we can carry out a more detailed analysis in its present state.”
Car Number 8
Chris Atkinson: "We’ve consolidated fourth for today so there was no need to take any big risks towards the end. Here of course you need 100 per cent concentration as there is no room for error, especially with the many tree-lined stages, but we were maybe pushing at 95 per cent in the last stage to make sure we got through.”
Car Number 17
Xevi Pons: "It’s a very difficult rally here in Finland for us to start with, so I am pleased to be in sixth after today. The fact that it is my first rally with the Subaru World Team makes it better for us and I hope from here we can continue with our speed. The battle with Aava today has been close, and I hope good for the fans."
Car Number 7
Petter Solberg: “If you look at the big picture then withdrawing from the rally was really the only option we had. We still had nearly 100km left to run after SS15 and the car really wasn't working at speed. If it helps us get to the bottom of why my car wasn’t working properly, then it will have been worth doing. I’m very sorry to my supporters who were on the stages waiting. But trust me; it wouldn’t have been much fun to watch today.”
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