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Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson has made a cautious start to Rally Catalunya in Spain and sits in eighth place after the opening day.

Atkinson lost most of his time on the opening three stages of the event, but in the afternoon picked up the pace to be within striking distance of fifth place, team mate Petter Solberg, with two days remaining.
Leading the way is reigning world champion and series leader, Sebastien Loeb. The Frenchman is 15.8 seconds clear of fellow Citroen driver, Dani Sordo. Ford driver François Duval is third, 41.3 seconds behind the leader, with Mikko Hirvonen fourth, also in a Ford, just 2.8 seconds further back.
The top four are well clear of the next bunch of drivers which includes Atkinson. Solberg is one minute 47.5 seconds of the pace, Urmo Aava two minutes 1.2 seconds behind, Jari-Matti Latvala is two minutes 4.4 seconds in arrears, and Atkinson another nine seconds back in 8th, two minutes 13.4 seconds slower than Loeb.
With the FIA regulations only allowing limited testing, the Subaru World Rally team drivers arrived in Spain having done very little running on asphalt in the new Impreza WRC2008 and started the rally with realistic expectations.
By the end of the morning loop of stages Atkinson was ninth, having already lost one minute 29.3 seconds.
However on the afternoon loop repeating the three stages, the Australian’s pace improved considerably. He was fifth fastest on each stage with only the two Citroens of Loeb and Sordo, and the two Fords of Duval and Hirvonen, quicker.
“We started cautiously as I didn’t have a good feeling in the car, but this afternoon was definitely better,” Atkinson said.
“I had to back off in the last stage this morning, but this afternoon it felt better and I could push more. It’s just a shame we lost so much time this morning. That’s really set us back.
“It’ll be tough tomorrow as there are lots of new roads, but we’ve got to look at it as another day and hope we keep moving in this direction.”
SWRT principal, David Richards, was philosophical about his team’s performance in its second outing on tarmac since launching the new Impreza WRC2008 mid-season.
“The limited amount of time we’ve spent on asphalt testing is apparent from today’s times,” Richards said. “However as the drivers become more familiar with the car in these conditions I’m sure the pace will pick up.”
The second day of Rally Catalunya takes crews through six stages totalling 127.98 competitive kilometres into the mountains of the Tarragona region to the north west of the Salou service park.
More than a quarter of the total stage distance is new, including two entirely new stages in the shape of Les Garrigues and La Llena. The day’s opener is the longest of the rally, whilst La Llena is one of the trickiest.
Results after day one – Rally Catalunya
1. Loeb / Elena, Citroen C4 WRC, 1h 10m 11.5s
2. Sordo / Marti, Citroen C4 WRC, +15.8s (diff. to 1st)
3. Duval / Pivato, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +41.3s
4. Hirvonen / Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +44.1s
5. Solberg / Mills, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +1m 47.5s
6. Aava / Sikk, Citroen C4 WRC, +2m 01.2s
7. Latvala / Anttila, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +2m 04.4s
8. Atkinson / Prévot, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +2m 13.4s
9. Mikkelsen / Floene, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +2m 24.9s
10.  Wilson / Martin, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +3m 42.1s
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