New surface, new car and another new challenge for SWRT
The second asphalt rally for the fledgling Subaru Impreza WRC2008 got off to a demanding start today on the first day of RallyRACC Catalunya – Costa Daurada. With the FIA regulations only allowing limited testing, the team arrived in Spain having done very little running on asphalt and therefore started the rally with realistic expectations.

The day started with high winds and low temperatures; conditions in which the team opted to run the three works Impreza WRC2008s on Pirelli’s soft compound P-Zero tyres to try and generate more heat and therefore grip from the rubber.

The opening stage of the rally was the trickiest that crews had to face on day one. The 20.48km La Mussara test twisted and turned into the La Mussara mountains, and it was apparent that all three of the team’s entries were struggling for pace having chosen the wrong compound tyre in conditions that saw the frontrunners opt for Pirelli’s hard compound alternative.

“The limited amount of time we’ve spent on asphalt testing is apparent from today’s times” said David Richards. “However as the drivers become more familiar with the car in these conditions I’m sure the pace will pick up.”

With the morning’s stages completed and a change to hard compound tyres for the afternoon, Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson improved their times markedly on the repeat passes in the afternoon, by which time the temperature had risen significantly. Solberg and Phil Mills climbed from eighth to fifth, whilst Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot rose to eighth overall. Brice Tirabassi and Fabrice Gordon continued their steady and impressive progress, improving their speed as their confidence grew.

“The soft tyres didn’t work for us this morning and we lost a lot of time, but I felt more comfortable on the second two stages” said Petter Solberg. “This afternoon we were faster but the car actually felt harder to drive on the hard tyres. It was moving around a lot more on them, especially under braking, so maybe we’ll go back.”

“We started cautiously as I didn’t have a good feeling in the car, but this afternoon was definitely better” said Chris Atkinson. “I had to back off in the last stage this morning, but this afternoon it felt better and I could push more. It’s just a shame we lost so much time this morning. That’s really set us back. It’ll be tough tomorrow as there are lots of new roads, but we’ve got to look at it as another day and hope we keep moving in this direction.”

Tirabassi and Gordon meanwhile successfully completed their first day of competition with SWRT aboard the third Impreza WRC2008. They set some competitive stage times on their first rally with the team and progressively improved during the day, demonstrating that the French duo are settling into both the car and the team exactly as planned.

“Today has been good for me, and the car has been good. I enjoyed it!” said Brice Tirabassi. “It was slippery this morning, but by the end of today the times were coming down and I’m feeling better in the car. I’m happy with my performance today, and look forward to new roads and more time in the car tomorrow.”

Tomorrow’s route
The second day of Rally Catalunya takes crews through six stages totalling 127.98 competitive kilometres into the mountains of the Tarragona region to the north west of the Salou service park. The route traces a loop through the airport city of Reus around the Montsant national park and back through Montblanc. More than a quarter of the total stage distance is new, including two entirely new stages in the shape of Les Garrigues and La Llena. The day’s opener is the longest of the rally, whilst La Llena is one of the trickiest.

Leaderboard after Day 1
1. S Loeb/D Elena 1h10m11.5s
2. D Sordo/M Marti +15.8sec
3. F Duval/P Pivato +41.3sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +44.1sec
5. P Solberg/P Mills +1m47.5sec
6. U Aava/K Sikk +2m01.2sec
7. J M Latvala/M Attila +2m04.4sec
8. C Atkinson/S Prevot +2m13.4sec
9. A Mikkelsen/O Floene +2m24.9sec
10. M Wilson/S Martin +3m42.1sec

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