Subaru rally driver, Chris Atkinson, retired from the first day of Rally New Zealand after rolling his Impreza WRC2008 on the rally’s fourth stage.

The event started well for the Gold Coast driver, and he was in fifth position as cars completed the first loop of three stages.

Atkinson was ahead of his team-mate, Petter Solberg, by over 45 seconds at the first service, and was happy with how his day had started.

“Okay, no problems this morning and we have had competitive speed in the fast sections, but we’re losing time in the slow,” Atkinson said.  

“When you look at slower rallies in the past, this morning we’ve actually been closer to the pace on the fast stuff, so although we’re losing some time, where we are is actually quite encouraging.

“Sure, we have some work to do, but the car is good, so we didn’t make any changes to it for this afternoon.”

Unfortunately, 14 kilometres into the 24 kilometre fourth stage, ‘Pirongia West 2’, Atkinson and co-driver, Stephane Prevot, slid into a ditch after a downhill braking section on the very slippery gravel roads.

They were able to continue, having lost approximately 40 seconds, but were subsequently forced to retire from the day with resulting engine problems just 500 metres from the stage end.

“It’s disappointing for sure, but the car just got sideways and on full opposite lock I ended up cutting a corner too much and it just went over,” Atkinson explained.

“We were pushing pretty hard this morning, and maybe a little harder after the service, but it’s just disappointing that we weren’t able to get closer to the pace.

“We seem to be giving away a little more in the slow stuff than the fast, but then it’s all relative as there are fewer corners in the fast stuff. The grip was pretty tricky this morning, but much better on the second pass as road cleaning is a big factor.

“There’s no miracle cure as there’s no single thing we can pinpoint, but we’ll take tomorrow as more testing and mileage and see what we’re able to do.”

Solberg ended the day in seventh place, while at the head of the pack, Mikko Hirvoven leads Sebastien Loeb by 27.8 seconds. The World Champion received 30 seconds in road penalties after his car suffered starter motor problems before stage six.

Tomorrow, competitors face a further six stages totaling 130 kilometres, including three stages in excess of 30 kilometres in length.

Repco Rally New Zealand

Results after Leg 1

1. Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Focus), 1h34m44.3s
2. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen C4), +27.8s (diff. to 1st)
3. Dani Sord (Citroen 4), +30.0s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford Focus), +30.1s
5. Francois Duval (Ford Focus), +1m27.9s
6. Urmo Aava (Citroen C4), +2m01.3s
7. Petter Solberg (Subaru Impreza), +2m25.8s

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