Solberg emerges on top after three-way tussle for podium step
Petter Solberg and Phil Mills secured third place overall at the end of the first day of competition in Sardinia after a close-fought battle with team mates Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot, who ended the day fifth.

Atkinson and Prévot made a strong start to the event, finishing the first three stages of the morning sharing third overall with Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen. Solberg and Mills meanwhile lay fifth. Having made some changes to their car during the midday service, the Norwegian traded position with his team mate in an afternoon of change, snatching third position as Atkinson slipped to fifth with Hirvonen splitting the SWRT crews. The Australian remains within reach of the podium still, promising to keep this battle fuelled into the longest day of competition tomorrow.

“The positive improvements the team has made to the dampers since Jordan are obviously paying off and both Petter and Chris should be very pleased with their performance today” said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal.

After a ceremonial start on Thursday night set against the multi-million dollar backdrop of the Porto Cervo resort, where the sprawling abodes are dwarfed only by the five storey superyachts anchored just off shore, the action returned on Friday to the industrial port of Olbia for the start of competition.

The first day of Rally Sardinia started with the unexpected return of rain, although it was only a shower before the first stage as opposed the torrential downpours that turned roads into mud baths earlier in the week. Nevertheless, the dowsing made the roads more slippery than many crews expected which, coupled with the very narrow routes, got this fifth Sardinian event off to an unforgiving start typical of the Italian island.

“I’m pleased with third and it’s very good for Subaru and for the whole team” said Petter Solberg. “This morning I wasn’t so comfortable but this afternoon was much better and I was really able to push. The team have been working hard and things are going well. A podium would be very, very good but there’s so many things happening on this rally. But at the end of the day it’s good and I am happy with third. Tomorrow we will have to push very hard to keep the third place, but I am feeling good at the moment.”

“Yeah, it’s not been a bad day today” echoed Chris Atkinson. “It’s good to get through the day with no problems though as it’s been tough. The guys behind are going well and are fast, so we’ll have to pick it up a bit tomorrow to stay in the fight. It’s a close battle for third, and there are a few people quite close who will join the fight tomorrow so it’ll be hard, that’s for sure. I hope we can find a bit more to stay in the top five, but it’s not a bad start.”

With the cool air temperature and the low-grip surface, the challenge of the tough stages was compounded by the difficulty of generating sufficient heat and therefore grip in Pirelli’s hard compound Scorpion gravel tyre. The morning’s run saw two of Ford’s front-runners drop from the lead battle, and two consistent drives by Solberg and Atkinson saw both Subaru World Rally Team Impreza WRC2007s complete a demanding day firmly within the top five.

Leaderboard after Day 1
1. S Loeb/D Elena 1hr 31min 27.6sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti 1hr 32min 03.3sec
3. P Solberg/P Mills 1hr 32min 21.4sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen 1hr 32min 26.5sec
5. C Atkinson/S Prévot 1hr 32min 36.6sec
6. G Galli/G Bernacchini 1hr 32min 39.9sec
7. J-M Latvala/M Anttila 1hr 32min 58.7sec
8. H Solberg/C Menkerud 1hr 33min 20.1sec
9. U Aava/K Sikk 1hr 33min 47.4sec
10 T Gardemeister/T Tuominen 1hr 33min 50.5sec

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