Subaru: Rally Ireland, 15–18 November 2007
84 crews started leg one.

Leg one was split into two sections, starting with a Superspecial in Belfast Thursday night before recommencing Friday morning. With ten stages in all, leg one was the longest of the rally. At 27.90km, SS3/6 Arigna was also the longest stage of the event. Running to the east and south–east of Sligo, competitors covered 168 competitive kilometres.

Thursday night was dry but cold, with a temperature of eight degrees Celsius. Friday started dry but there were light rain showers on SS5, 6, 7 and 8. The temperature ranged between eight and 12 degrees Celsius.

Gronholm (Ford); Donnelly (Skoda); Pons (Subaru); Solberg (Ford)

Subaru World Rally Team
Leg one finished with the Subaru World Rally Team duo of Petter Solberg and Phil Mills lying fifth overall, but with team–mates Chris Atkinson and Xevi Pons both counting the cost of mistakes on the unforgiving Irish stages.

Conditions on the first leg of Ireland’s inaugural WRC event were treacherous, with the asphalt routes covered in mud. Conditions got worse for those running further down the order as the roads became ever–more slippery, aided by the afternoon rain. The narrow roads, lined by ditches, stone walls and banks allowed no margin for error, and the tricky conditions caught many drivers out.

Petter and Phil completed the opening Superspecial stage in Belfast fifth overall, winning their head–to–head pairing with Hirvonen (Ford). Experiencing some engine trouble in the morning’s loop of stages, which was traced to a faulty sensor and rectified during the first service, Petter had a trouble–free afternoon to finish the day fifth overall.

Chris was the leading SWRT driver after Thursday’s Superspecial, finishing the 1.82km sprint fourth overall having also won his pairing. Lying sixth by the second stage of the morning, he was running well until he slid off the road in a fast right–hander 15km into stage four. Managing to return to the service park, the team repaired the front end of the car to enable Chris to continue leg one, but the incident cost him over 20 minutes.

Xevi completed the team’s clean sweep at the Superspecial, winning his own head–to–head. Restarting Friday morning eleventh on the road, he had to tackle even more mud in the stages, on surfaces he had no experience of. He was just outside the top ten after the second stage of the day, until he slid off the road 5km into stage four, resulting in engine damage that forced his retirement from the rally. He will not restart leg two tomorrow.

Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, Richard Taylor:
"It’s been a hugely challenging first day for all three drivers. Petter is in a comfortable fifth place but unfortunately Chris lost over 20 minutes following his accident and despite setting several top six stage times is well down the order. Xevi also suffered an accident and the damage to his engine that resulted meant he was unable to continue. Tomorrow will be another tough day but we will see if Petter and Chris can move up the field."

Petter Solberg:
"Today’s stages have been difficult and tricky, but for me it’s actually been quite okay. The car feels okay, and from fifth place overall, anything is still possible over the next two days. Today I’ve driven at a steady pace, I’ve taken no risks, and instead I’m keeping a pace I feel comfortable with. Tomorrow’s stages are a different kind of challenge and I’m looking forward to them."

Chris Atkinson:
"We’ve faced some incredible stage conditions out there today and were pushing quite hard this morning. Things were going well until SS4 when I got distracted by a split–time coming into the car. I looked down, missed my braking marker and went off. It’s very disappointing. From that point on the focus switched to testing, looking ahead to Monte Carlo next year and working our way through some set–up options. Tomorrow we’ll continue that work, not running at a maximum attack but hopefully taking something valuable from the rally."

Xevi Pons:
"My car left the road on SS4, on a right hand corner about 5km from the start. It was a wide piece of road, not particularly bumpy or muddy, but we had too much speed and the car under–steered straight on and hit a bank. I got going again, but the oil–cooler had been damaged in the impact and after a couple of kilometres the oil warning lit up on the dashboard and I had to stop. There was a little fire in the engine bay, which we quickly extinguished, and that was it – we could go no further. It’s a big shame because this is a very special rally, with completely different stages, and I wanted to get more experience here."

Leg Two
Tomorrow’s leg takes competitors through six stages, split into two loops to the north east of the service park. With more unpredictable weather, tyre choice will be just as important in ensuring maximum grip on stages that promise to be just as tricky and unforgiving.

Leg 1 Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena 1h 33m 15.9sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti +11.2sec
3. J M Latvala/M Anttila +1m28.4sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +1m53.2sec
5. P Solberg/P Mills +2m19.2sec
6. G Wilks/P Pugh +4m13.6sec
7. M Stohl/I Minor +4m41.9sec
8. M Wilson/M Orr +6m45.4sec
9. T McNulty/E O’Donnell +7m55.9sec
10. G MacHale/A Harryman +7m59.8sec

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