Rally Australia – Subaru preview
- 23rd October 2006, 8:50am
After two events in the Mediterranean, next week the Subaru World Rally Team travels to the other side of the globe for Rally Australia and three days of flat-out action on the red earth roads around Perth.
First included as a round of the WRC in 1989, this will be the last time the rally will be based in Western Australia, and its unforgiving mixture of slippery gravel and narrow tree-lined stages, before it moves to a new home on the east coast in 2008.
Most of the rallying takes place on forest roads to the south and east of the city. The roads offer a unique challenge, since they are not only fast and narrow, but covered by a fine layer of marble-like gravel that makes them exceptionally slippery. As a result, it is regarded as one of the toughest events of the year for newcomers. In dry conditions especially, those running first on the road face a disadvantage as they sweep the slippery surface away for those behind, while those further down the order benefit as the base layer becomes more exposed with the passing of every car.
Despite the tricky conditions, Australia is a very popular event with drivers, teams and spectators who relish its sunshine and stunning scenery. With plumes of dust trailing the cars, and spectacular jumps and water-splashes like those seen in the Sotico stages on the second day, the event is one of the most photogenic of the year. Whilst Europe gears up for winter, Australia is heading for summer and average temperatures are expected to be between 11 degrees and 22 degrees Celsius.
The competitive action starts on Thursday 26 October with two passes through the head-to-head Superspecial at Gloucester Park before the regular stages start on Friday. Comprising 348 competitive kilometres and 26 stages, the rally will be based around a single service park on the banks of the Swan River in centre of the city. The longest stage is the 29.93km Helena North test, which is run twice on Leg three, while the shortest is the Perth City Super Special, which is run six times. The wining car will cross the finish ramp back in Perth on Sunday at 1430hrs.
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Rally Australia, one Impreza WRC2006 for Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and another for Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall).
Petter has contested the rally six times before and won it in 2003 on the way to clinching that year’s drivers’ championship. Last year Solberg was in a commanding lead before an encounter with a kangaroo put him out of the rally altogether. This year will be Chris’ third attempt at his home rally. On his debut in 2004, he won the Group N classification and in 2005, in a WRC car, set the fastest time on nine of the 26 stages to finish fourth – equaling Ross Dunkerton's 1993 record as the highest placed Australian finisher.
Petter Solberg: “Australia is a fantastic event. I’ve had a win there in the past and really enjoy the challenge of the stages. Last year could have been another good result but the circumstances meant it just wasn’t to be. On the last round in Turkey we showed that our performance is improving. The small details that have changed on the car made a positive difference, and perhaps if the work that has gone on since then brings further improvements, we can aim for even more next week. As a driver, my confidence is higher than it has been for a while. All I can do is drive to the best of my ability and keep my fingers crossed that’s enough. We’ll see.”
Chris Atkinson: “Of course it’s always special to compete on your home event, and the rally in Perth is one of my favourites - I’ve always enjoyed it. We were fast there last year, but this time we have to be a realistic - we still have some work to do to get the whole package working together again. We came away from Turkey feeling positive about the way the development programme was shaping up, and the changes that have been made so far are encouraging. We’ll just have to wait and see what we can do next week. My motivation is always the same; to get a good result, and that’s what I’m aiming to do.”
Luis Moya, Subaru World Rally Team sporting director: ”Historically speaking, Australia has been a good event for the Subaru World Rally Team, even though it’s a particularly challenging one for drivers. The stages are generally fast – only Finland is faster - and precision is essential. The racing line offers a reasonable amount of grip once the slippery, ‘rolling-stones’ gravel has been cleared, but the first cars on the road suffer as they have to clear the line for everyone else. The advantages of starting further down the order are perhaps the most exaggerated of the year and with the start order for Leg one based on positions in the Championship, this is something that Petter and Chris might be able to use to their advantage this year.
The wide variety of speeds and corners can be punishing, but the tree-lined route can be even harder as even the tiniest of mistakes can spell retirement. With the rally taking place at the beginning of the Australian summer, the weather is normally warm but rain showers are not unheard of and these may add a further dimension to the mix. As always, the choice of tyres will be crucial. Most drivers tend to go for a softer compound with a fairly open pattern for grip, but the softer rubber can move around a lot on the clean line if the temperature is high.
Our objectives are to give Petter and Chris good, reliable cars that will enable them to push consistently throughout the rally. In terms of finishing positions, I feel we should be able to get both cars into the top five. As long as they run reliably and keep out of trouble a podium finish is not out of the question for either driver. On this rally, consistency is key.”
Between the rallies
On Monday 16 October, the day after Rally Turkey finished, Petter and a friend from his hometown in Norway flew to the Island of Gran Canaria to meet Colin McRae at his new house. They had dinner on Tuesday night and went for a boat trip on Tuesday morning, before Solberg flew to London and then Santiago, Chile, for a four-day Subaru promotional trip. On Thursday, Petter was one of the star guests at the Santiago Motorshow and on Friday gave demonstration rides in Subaru road cars. Petter will fly from Santiago to Perth on Saturday and have a couple of days rest before starting the pre-event reconnaissance. Chris Atkinson enjoyed a more leisurely time; flying straight home to Australia’s Gold Coast after Turkey, and spending time catching up with family and friends. Atkinson will arrive in Perth on Sunday.
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