The hopes of Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson for a top result in Rally Sweden were dashed early on the opening day when the Australian lost around 15 minutes after his car became stuck in a snow bank after a spin.

Atkinson started the day full of hope and confidence following his third placing at the opening round of the 2008 World Rally Championship in Monte Carlo a fortnight ago.

However, the Swedish round is a unique test, and Atkinson got caught out about four kilometres into the third stage of the event on a medium speed section when he lost control of his car. As the banks on the side of the road are softer than normal due to the warm conditions, instead of guiding the car back onto the stage, they gave way and beached the Impreza.

“The car just snapped and we went off,” Atkinson said. “It didn’t do much damage, but we couldn’t get restarted again for a long time and lost about 15 minutes.”

The Queenslander finished the day in 46th place, 19 minutes 11.5 seconds behind Latvala, and will continue across the final two days with the goal of finishing the event to score manufacturer points for Subaru.

Leading the way in Sweden is Jari-Matti Latvala, 48.2 seconds clear of Mikko Hirvonen. Henning Solberg is in third place a further 8.1 seconds back, completing the domination of the rally by Scandinavian drivers.

Atkinson’s team mate, Norwegian Petter Solberg, is in fifth place.

“The conditions were very hard today,” Atkinson said.

“The slide into the bank was quite a surprise for me. I wasn’t feeling entirely comfortable with the car in the conditions, which were a mixture of snow and gravel and so made the level of grip tricky.

“We would normally have made some changes at the midday service, but here we are only allowed to change tyres and refuel (in a remote service) so there is not much you can do.

“The roads are so narrow here, and we can’t use the snow banks as they’re too soft. They’re very fast, so if you step a little off-line there’s just no room to sort it out before you’re off.

“We’ll make some changes tonight and start again tomorrow.”

The second day of the Swedish Rally takes competitors through just over 120 competitive kilometres to the north of the Karlstad service park.

The day includes the first of two remote services in the town of Hagfors; a location long-visited by the rally. The stages are likely to consist of more snow and ice, but with two passes of each stage and temperatures forecast to remain above zero, the ground will soon become cut up and rutted, making conditions very difficult on the already treacherous roads.

Rally Sweden - Results after day one

1. Latvala / Anttila, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, 1h 03m 33.3s
2. Hirvonen / Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +48.2m s (diff. to 1st)
3. Solberg / Menkerud, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +56.3s
4. Galli / Bernacchini, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +1m 02.0s
5. Solberg / Mills, Subaru Impreza WRC2007, +1m 45.2s
6. Ostberg / Unnerud, Subaru Impreza WRC, +2m 15.1s
7. Wilson / Martin, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +2m 59.6s
8. Gardemeister / Tuominen, Suzuki SX4, +3m 21.6s
9. Mikkelsen / Floene, Ford Focus WRC, +4m 05.8s
10. Sandell / Axelsson, Peugeot 207, +5m 14.6s
46. Atkinson / Prévot, Subaru Impreza WRC2007, +19m 11.5s
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