Subaru: Rally New Zealand, 31 August–2 September 2007
FIA World Rally Championship

Rally New Zealand, 31 August–2 September 2007

Leg 2 Report

Sixty–six of the original 68 starters left the service park at Mystery Creek, Hamilton, for the second leg of Rally New Zealand.

The longest of the rally, leg two was based to the north west of Hamilton and comprised some spectacular gravel stages along the coastal roads near the Tasman Sea. There were seven stages in all. The day started with two short tests near the mouth of the Waikato River, then moved inland for the 31km Franklin section. After service, the crews headed out for a brace of challenging 32km stages, Te Akau South and North.

Saturday started out misty, cool and overcast in Hamilton, but by mid morning the winter sun had broken through and the mist and dampness evaporated. Light overnight showers left some shaded sections of the first stage muddy,but by the afternoon the roads were almost completely dry. Temperatures ranged between 12 and 16 degrees


Subaru World Rally Team summary
The second leg of Rally New Zealand ended this evening with Subaru World Rally Team drivers Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot locked in a thrilling, nip–and–tuck battle for fourth with Ford’s Flying Finn, Jari–Matti Latvala.

Atkinson started the day with a seven second advantage over Latvala, but there was little to separate the youngsters over the leg’s 130 competitive kilometres of smooth and flowing gravel roads. Having retired half way through this leg last year, Atkinson was unfamiliar with the afternoon’s stages, but still delivered a string of top–five times, and was third–fastest on the Super Special at Mystery Creek. With another 95 kilometres to run tomorrow, 27–year–old Atkinson lies less than eleven seconds off fourth, and potentially his best ever result in New Zealand.

Petter Solberg and Phil Mills experienced another frustrating day in the number seven Impreza WRC2007. Solberg lies seventh overall, but remained dissatisfied with the handling of his car throughout the leg. Despite making a number of mechanical and set–up changes in an effort to improve the situation, the 32–year– old Norwegian was unable to find the speed that helped him win this event in 2004.

The mixed conditions of leg one were replaced by bright skies today, and although the early spring sunshine meant temperatures remained cool, the stages were mainly dry and dusty. Such conditions disadvantaged the first cars through the stages, as they swept away a coating of slippery, loose gravel for the benefit of those behind. With the dubious honour of running first on the road, Subaru’s latest signing, Xevi Pons, faced the worst of the gravel, and this was a contributory factor in an accident on the third stage (SS8), which brought the 28 –year–old’s rally to a premature end.

Team quotes
Subaru World Rally Team managing director Richard Taylor:
"Chris has done a good job today and is having a really close fight with Jari–Matti Latvala. With nearly 100km still to go I’m sure they’ll continues that battle tomorrow. Petter had a difficult morning, although things did improve a little this afternoon, and he remains on course for a points scoring finish. On only his second gravel rally in a Subaru, Xevi suffered running first on the road. He set some encouraging times early on, but on a slippery section he was unfortunate enough to roll and, due to the extent of the damage, he won’t re–start again tomorrow."

Chris Atkinson:
"We’ve tried our best out there today, and we’ve made some more progress with the competitiveness of the car. It was disappointing to lose fourth spot to Jari, but we changed the car a bit this afternoon and made some improvements to the high–speed handling. Okay, perhaps the tyre choice wasn’t ideal for the first stage (SS10) but we managed to hold Latvala on the second, which I expected to lose a lot of time on, and right now to be able to do just about the same time as Mikko and him is a good result. I didn’t know the stages this afternoon so well, so I didn’t take too many risks Ė especially the first one because I went off there last year. Tomorrow we’ll just have to wait and see what we can do. We’ve been pretty good on the twisty stuff – so stages like the Whaanga Coast could be really good. I’m looking forward to it."

Petter Solberg:
"It’s frustrating, but for me the situation is similar to yesterday – if anything a bit worse. The car just doesn’t feel right – the rear end is moving around too much and there’s no front grip. The engineers are looking for a solution, and I hope they can find something to fix it. As the driver I’m doing my best – I can’t do anything more than that."

Xevi Pons:
"Today it wasn’t so easy and the conditions were very different to yesterday. It was dry, and running first on the road we had the worst of the loose, slippery gravel, but I made a mistake braking for a corner, the back of the car just touched the side of the road and then we rolled two or three times. We weren’t going so fast, so Xevi and I are fine, but of course I’m disappointed because I wasn’t pushing very hard – we just got caught out. It’s a shame we didn’t get more experience of these roads, but at least before the accident we had found a good set–up, and I was feeling very comfortable in the car. I think this is a good thing for us, and should help us on Japan and GB."

Tomorrow’s leg
For Sunday’s final leg of Rally New Zealand, the crews head due west from rally headquarters towards the coast. The main action consists of two loops of three stages. The first test of the day, Maungatawhiri, is short and very fast, but Te Hutewai is a more traditional Kiwi special stage and features lots of flowing medium–speed bends and corners hidden over crests. The last ‘proper’ stage of the rally is the famous 29km Whaanga Coast section, after which crews return to Hamilton for a rally–closing loop of the Super Special.

Leg 2 Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena 2h 47m 25.1sec
2. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen +1.7sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +1m12.5sec
4. J–M Latvala/M Anttila +2m02.3sec
5. C Atkinson/S Prevot +2m12.8sec
6. D Sordo/M Marti +2m49.4sec
7. P Solberg/P Mills +3m25.9sec
8. U Aava/K Sikk +7m17.2sec
9. M Wilson/M Orr +8m35.5sec
10. H Solberg/C Menkerud +8m45.2sec

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