Subaru: Rally Japan, 26–28 October 2007
85 crews left the Kita Aikoku service park this morning for leg one.

Leg one took the competitors through ten gravel stages totalling 106.18 kilometres, and a massive 465.40km of liaison sections. The first eight were run to the north of the Obihiro service park as two loops of four, and the last two were run on the Obihiro SuperSpecial, the shortest stage of the event.

The day started with a temperature of three degrees Celsius and rose to midday high of 15 degrees. Early stages featured patches of fog and ice, but conditions were generally bright until 1700hrs when it began to rain. Rain was falling heavily as crews tackled th
e SuperSpecial stage.

Gronholm (Ford); Solberg (Subaru); Atkinson (Subaru)

Subaru World Rally Team summary
Leg one of Rally Japan proved disappointing for the Subaru World Rally Team after two of its three cars retired from the event. Petter Solberg’s day came to a premature end with a gear selection problem after SS5, while Chris Atkinson crashed off the road during SS6. Xevi Pons now leads the Subaru challenge, and will start tomorrow’s second leg in seventh place overall. The Spaniard ended the day in the best possible way, by setting the fastest time on the last stage Ė his first stage victory for Subaru.

Xevi has never competed on Rally Japan before, and gained a great deal of experience from his first day. Battling through the toughconditions, which included fog, ice and heavy rain, the Spanish pairing of Pons and co–driver Xavier Amigo recorded consistent top–ten stage times to secure seventh place. Reporting a lack of grip early on, changes made to the car throughout the day improved Xevi’s confidence on the slippery gravel, and he will start tomorrow feeling more comfortable with his Impreza WRC2007, and more familiar with the character of the Japanese stages.

Petter and co–driver Phil Mills were third fastest on SS4, but otherwise had a difficult start to the event reporting that they, like Xevi, were struggling with a lack of grip and balance. On the first stage after the midday service (SS5) Solberg was luckyto recover his car after it slid off the road and into a ditch. The car sustained some frontal damage, but Solberg pressed on and completed the stage. Sadly for Solberg a gear selection problem on the next road section left him with only sixth gear for SS6. With the twisty and steep nature of the day’s remaining roads, it was deemed not possible for him to continue and he retired from the leg. Solberg, who won Rally Japan in 2004, will restart the rally tomorrow.

Chris had an encouraging start, finishing third fastest on the opening stage, but reported a lack of confidence in the car through the remaining morning route. Pushing hard after making some changes at the midday service, he was fourth fastest on SS5, and was running fourth fastest in SS6 when his car slid wide on a medium speed section and collided with a tree. Both he and co–driver Stephane Prevot were unhurt in the crash, but the damage to the car was too extensive to enable a restart on Saturday.

Team quotes
Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director:
"Overall it has been a disappointing day for the whole team. We feel particularly sorry for all the Subaru fans who are here to support Petter, Chris and Xevi that two of our cars are not on the leader board. After a reasonable start, Petter and Chris both experienced problems with the balance of their cars which is very frustrating. Xevi finished the day in seventh place on his first visit to Japan, and Petter will take advantage of Superally rules to put on a show for his fans for the rest of the rally."

Petter Solberg:
"I can honestly say that I’ve tried my hardest today, I did everything I could and, of course, it’s very frustrating that I haven’t been able to get the result I wanted – especially here on Subaru’s own rally – and I’m really sorry to all the Subaru supporters for that. We struggled with the balance and the handling of the car pretty much from the first stage today, and this badly affected the amount of grip we had. Even though we made a good tyre choice I just wasn’t able to push at all. After the first service things still didn’t feel 100 percent, and we were lucky not to stop after we went off on SS5. But in the end a gear selection problem meant we had no option other than to retire. We’ll be out on the stages again tomorrow, and I sincerely hope I’ll be able to give our fans something to cheer about."

Chris Atkinson:
"I’m not entirely sure what happened yet, we’ll need to have a look at the on–board camera and the data to find out for sure. What I do know is that I was pushing hard through a sequence of bends when the car drifted wide and slid into a ditch. We were still going pretty quickly when we ran out of road, broadsided and took out a tree with the back door. The impact was heavy and there’s no chance we’ll be able to restart tomorrow. The accident was the end of a pretty frustrating rally for me. We should have been faster this morning, especially as we had a good road position, but the pace never really materialised. We came here with high hopes and expectations, but we’ve let ourselves and Subaru down."

Xevi Pons:
"This morning was not so good for us as I felt unhappy with the balance of the car and couldn’t really push. It was difficult to learn too much about the surface as on the second passes it got so badly cut up, but I feel a little more prepared for tomorrow. We made some changes to the suspension during the midday service which made the car feel more comfortable and easier to drive, so this afternoon was better. It’s not perfect, but I am happy with what we have at the moment, and with how today has gone for us. We can still do more going into leg two so that I feel more confident in the car, but we were fastest on the final stage of today which was good for me and also for the team. It’s a long and difficult rally, so I am pleased that we had no problems today. Seventh isn’t bad but tomorrow is a long day so we will keep pushing and see what happens."

Tomorrow’s Leg
Leg two will be an even longer day for drivers and co–drivers, as they start at 0505hrs and don’t leave the final servic e until 1905hrs. A marathon 14 hours in the car and a further ten stages to the north of Obihiro totalling 146.68 competitive kilometres await.

Leg 1 Leaderboard
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen 1h 00m 30.8sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena +10.3sec
3. J–M Latvala/M Anttila +13.7sec
4. D Sordo/M Marti +40.6sec
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud +48.4sec
6. M Stohl/I Minor +1m30.0sec
7. X Pons/X Amigo +2m02.6sec
8. L P Companc/J M Volta +2m20.8sec
9. M Wilson/M Orr +2m50.8sec
10. F Villagra/J Diaz +3m26.4sec

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