Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson has finished the opening day of Rallye Deutschland in seventh place after a day of familiarising himself with his new Impreza WRC2008 in its World Rally Championship tarmac debut.
Atkinson and team mate Petter Solberg lacked the pace on the German roads to consistently match the quickest cars in the field.
Reigning world champion and current series leader, Sebastien Loeb, leads the way with two days to go, 19.9 seconds clear of arch-rival Mikko Hirvonen. Dani Sordo is third, a further 5.7 seconds back.
Francois Duval is fourth, 38.7 seconds off the pace, with Jari-Matti Latvala another 20 seconds back in fifth. Next are the two Subarus, lead by Solberg, one minute 3.9 seconds behind Loeb while Atkinson is a further 30.1 seconds behind. Right on his tail is Henning Solberg, only 2.2 seconds behind, ensuring another day of high pressure racing for the Australian tomorrow.
The Gold Coast driver knows he is in for a tough few days as the team works to find the pace from the new car to match that demonstrated by the leaders. He and Solberg traded places throughout the morning, but during the afternoon, Atkinson lost time to Solberg’s Subaru.
However Atkinson remained philosophical after the opening leg and will now focus on remaining in the top eight in his quest to score more World Championships points. Currently he is in third place with 37 points, but Sordo is just two points behind and Latvala three, so every placing, every point, is vital.
“OK, today has not been perfect, we’re not as quick as we wanted to be and seventh isn’t what we were aiming for, but it’s not been so bad,” said Atkinson.
“The car is getting better on tarmac. There are still a few things to fine-tune to get the speed we’re missing, but we’ll keep working on it this weekend.
“We’re still lacking a little confidence in these conditions, but then we haven’t done much testing on tarmac.
“People were changing tyre compounds from the morning to the afternoon, from hard to soft, so for me I don’t think our tyre choice made so much difference. Some areas we lost a bit, but some weren’t so bad so it pretty much worked out.
“Tomorrow will be difficult and we’re a little way down the order, but we’ll keep working hard and improving as much as we can.”
The second day of Rallye Deutschland is what many believe will decide the outcome of this event. Eight stages and a shade fewer than 160 competitive kilometres, it includes the longest and most gruelling of the rally.
The Arena Panzerplatte stage runs for 30 kilometres along the cracked, dirty and abrasive concrete of the Baumholder military range and packs a real sting for wayward cars.
The weather was dry for the opening day but it is always a lottery in Germany, but rain tomorrow would certainly make the shiny tarmac even more slippery and treacherous and add another element to Atkinson’s testing of the new car in competition.
Results after day one – Rallye Deutschland
1. Loeb / Elena, Citroen C4 WRC, 1h 00m 22.5s
2. Hirvonen / Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +19.9s (diff. to 1st)
3. Sordo / Marti, Citroen C4 WRC, +25.6s
4. Duval  / Pivato, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +38.7s
5. Latvala / Anttila, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +55.7s
6. Solberg / Mills, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +1m 03.9s
7. Atkinson / Prévot, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +1m 34.0s
8. Solberg / Menkerud, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +1m 36.2s
9. Aava / Sikk, Citroen C4 WRC, +1m 39.4s
10. Gardemeister / Tuominen, Suzuki SX4 WRC, +2m 12.4s
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