Solberg ups pace and Atkinson rejoins rally
Petter Solberg and Phil Mills, today celebrating his birthday, found improved pace on the second day of competition in New Zealand. Restarting after a roll yesterday, Subaru World Rally Team team-mates Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot took the opportunity to cover more testing miles in their Impreza WRC2008.

The mostly fine but cold day was marked only by light rain showers at lunchtime, although they were not sufficient even to dampen the dust that billowed from the gravel roads. Of the six stages, three were the longest trio of the rally, each of which was longer than 31 kilometres. The day’s final test was the longest of the event, at a gruelling 32.36 kilometres.

Every stage today was run only once, except for the second edition of the spectator stage, meaning that those at the front had more dirty roads to contend with, and those further down the order reaped the benefits of cleaner and relatively grippier stage surfaces. Nevertheless, today’s narrow tests remained very loose and slippery. The often blind corners demanded absolute commitment and precision from drivers, and the pace of many yo-yoed stage-on-stage.

“It’s proving to be a tough rally for us so far, but we must approach it with an overall perspective and not just seize on one element of the mix” said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. “It’s important that we work systematically to enable us to build on our experience here and continue to improve our new car.”

A solid day for Solberg and Mills saw them improve their pace from yesterday and close fast on sixth position. With five stages left tomorrow to continue their fight, the gap at the end of today is just three seconds exactly. Their pace on the day’s opener was promising, and as tactics amongst the front-runners came into play towards the day’s end, the duo again came to the fore on the final stage.

“The car was a lot better than yesterday, but it’s been another tough day” said Petter Solberg. “A lot of the stages were very narrow, and when you struggle for confidence it really shows in the times. We made some adjustments to the dampers for the last stage and it wasn’t bad, but we still have more work to do. I’m just driving, saying what I feel, and letting the engineers work on the car and come up with the ideas. We’re just lacking overall grip here, that’s what we need to find. On the fast and flat stuff, like the last stage, we’re not bad, but on the twisty it’s very difficult to push and that’s where we’re losing time.”

The Subaru World Rally Team worked feverishly last night to re-prepare Atkinson’s Impreza for today’s competition, completing the job in time to make the overnight parc ferme. The Australian and Prévot set the fifth and third fastest times respectively on the last two stages of the afternoon, but had a frustrating day struggling to find the traction to push as much as they had been able on Friday.

“This afternoon was better and we were able to push for some better times” said Chris Atkinson, “but overall today has not been good. We had some problems with the suspension struts that meant the car wasn’t damping properly, but after we changed them in service it was better. We’ve still got a lot to learn with this new car and it’s frustrating that we’re in this position as from testing we know this car can perform far better. The guys did a great job on the car last night to turn it round in time, and I’d like to thank them all.”

Tomorrow’s route
The final day of Repco Rally New Zealand is the most stunning of the event as crews skirt the jagged cliff tops overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Whaanga Coast stage. Four proper stages precede the final running of the Mystery Creek spectator stage around the service park, which brings a close to the rally. With 85.04 kilometres of competition, battles will rage well into the final day.

Leaderboard after Day 2
1. J-M Latvala/M Anttila 2h57m29.0sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +9.3s
3. S Loeb/D Elena +13.3s
4. D Sordo/M Marti +15.7s
5. F Duval/P Pivato +1m40.9s
6. U Aava/K Sikk +2m49.8s
7. P Solberg/P Mills +2m52.8s
8. P-G Andersson/J Andersson +4m31.0s
9. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen +4m31.0s
10. F Villagra/J Perez Companc +6m56.8s

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