Trying start for SWRT down under
After a tough first day of Repco Rally New Zealand, the Subaru World Rally Team duo of Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot were sidelined after a roll on stage four, whilst team-mates Petter Solberg and Phil Mills finished in seventh position overall.

In the morning’s stages, both Solberg and Atkinson were able to deliver more competitive times in the faster sections of the rally, but lost time to the leaders in the slower and more twisty areas. Despite there being no overriding issue with either car, both drivers were left pondering an overall general lack of pace.

“There’s no getting away from the disappointment of losing one of our cars on the first day of the rally” said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. “The remainder of the event for Chris will form an extended test programme to get more mileage under his belt, whilst at the same time we’ll use what we can from this to help Petter.”

“Today has been very tough” said Petter Solberg. “We’ve been pushing hard, but we’re too far off the leaders. We had some problems with damaged front right suspension, and that’s where we lost most. Grip was really tricky this morning, very slippery, and it got better this afternoon, but with our road position we should have been faster.”

Solberg’s pace improved on the afternoon’s repeat passes of the morning’s stages and he was relatively closer to the front-runners, when the stages had been made cleaner and less slippery by the morning’s competition.

Despite a dry day of competition, the region has seen 50 per cent more rainfall than usual in the month of August, leaving the roads surprisingly slippery. That coupled with the low ambient temperatures and the use of Pirelli’s hard compound gravel tyre made the fast gravel routes incredibly tricky.

It was in these conditions that Atkinson and Prévot became caught out on a tricky section of downhill braking whilst pushing absolutely flat-out. Sliding into a ditch, they lost 40 seconds with a roll and sustained heavy damage to the front left corner of the car.

The resulting damage caused the engine to cut out just 500 metres before the stage finish, and, unable to restart the two litre Boxer, Atkinson and Prévot were forced to retire from the day. The crew worked feverishly to repair the damage, which owing to the inherent strength designed into the car by the team proved mostly cosmetic, and the pair will re-enter tomorrow’s competition under Superally regulations, which adds twenty minutes to their rally time.

“It’s disappointing for sure, but the car just got sideways and on full opposite lock I ended up cutting a corner too much and it just went over” said Chris Atkinson. “But the car stood up well to the impact so we’re both ok. We were pushing pretty hard this morning and maybe a little harder after the service, but it’s just disappointing that we weren’t able to get closer to the pace. We seem to be giving away a little more in the slow stuff than the fast. The grip was pretty tricky this morning, but much better on the second passes as road cleaning is a big factor. We’ll take tomorrow as more testing and mileage and see what we’re able to do.”

Day one was the longest of the event, despite the long Waitomo stage being split into two due to a landslide the week before the rally. It consisted of seven stages totalling 138 competitive kilometres.

Tomorrow’s route
Day two of Repco Rally New Zealand is unique in that, apart from the second running of the spectator stage around the service park, every stage is run only once. Six stages take competitors through exactly 130 competitive kilometres in the Franklin district to the north west of the Mystery Creek service park. With the halving of day one’s Waitomo stage, day two hosts the three longest stages of the rally at 31.58, 31.92 and 32.36 kilometres respectively. The day’s second test is one close to the team’s heart: the 13.78km Possum test pays homage to longtime Subaru driver and national hero Possum Bourne.

Day 1 Leaderboard
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen 1h34m44.3sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena +27.8s
3. D Sordo/M Marti +30.0s
4. J-M Latvala/M Anttila +30.1s
5. F Duval/P Pivato +1m27.9s
6. U Aava/K Sikk +2m01.3s
7. P Solberg/P Mills +2m25.8s
8. P-G Andersson/J Andersson +2m50.5s
9. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen +3m48.0s
10. F Vilagra/J Perez Companc +4m47.5s

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