Solberg fifth but Atkinson crashes heavily on icy opener in GB
The opening day of Wales Rally GB, the final round of the 2008 WRC season, saw some of the most treacherous conditions of the season with ice lining the stages and near-freezing temperatures. On safety grounds, two tests were cancelled and the total competitive distance was slashed from 123km to fewer than 50km.

Amid the ice, mud, pounding rain and hail storms the SWRT crews of Petter Solberg/Phil Mills and Chris Atkinson/Stéphane Prévot were running strongly in fifth and sixth positions overall until stage seven when the Impreza WRC2008 No.6 of Chris and Stéphane crashed at speed.

The Walters Arena stage (SS7) features a flat out left-right kink only a few hundred metres from the start, and it was here that, whilst flat out, that the duo slid off the road on ice. The ambulance crews despatched to the scene were quickly able to confirm that both drivers were ok, but Chris was airlifted to hospital for observation along with the SWRT medical team.

“It is deeply unfortunate that Chris and Stéphane suffered such a bad accident today” said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. “We are in close contact with the hospital and it has just been confirmed that he will be released tonight. That they are both ok is testament to the strength and integrity of our new car and all the work that the team has put into improving the safety features. The stages in mid-Wales have been very tricky and Petter and Phil have done a very solid job to remain well within reach of a podium here.”

The first six stages of the day were based in mid-Wales, some 150km north of the Swansea service park. On Thursday night the decision was taken to reduce the length of these stages on safety grounds due to ice. Upon further inspection today, the opening stage of the day, Hafren, was still deemed too treacherous and so was cancelled. With ground temperatures remaining near freezing, the conditions had not eased by the afternoon and the repeat pass of Hafren (SS4) was cancelled also.

Those first to start each stage did so cautiously, unsure of how much or indeed where the potentially terminal patches of ice lay on the narrow forest roads of mid-Wales. With each passing car, the roads became less icy and the braking points of others more apparent, meaning that drivers further down the order were able to gain a significant advantage.

Running fifth and sixth on the road respectively, Atkinson and Solberg enjoyed little of this benefit and faced very icy roads.

“It’s been unbelievably difficult today” said Petter Solberg. “We were very careful this morning just trying to find out how the roads were and the limit, and we were in a quite ok position. We made some changes in the midday service and on the long stage [SS6] we started fastest, then the screen fogged up so we couldn’t see anything. I was driving from Phil’s notes, but the stage is very fast so we lost time quickly. I lost I’m sure 14 or 15 seconds so I think we could have been fighting for the lead. When I heard about Chris when we were waiting to start the stage after him it’s scary, very difficult. It makes you more cautious. With these tyres and no tread cutting, no gravel crew, full ice and rock hard tyres; I just don’t know. I think the next two days will be the same road conditions too.”

Tomorrow’s route
Saturday’s competition consists of seven stages that total 129.21km, making it the longest day of the event. After six stages that are run far closer to the service park in Swansea than were Friday’s stages, the day ends with a short spectator stage inside Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. On the reconnaissance of these roads earlier in the week they were also covered in ice and snow. Resolfen, tomorrow’s first stage, starts at 0818hrs local time.

Leaderboard after Day 1
1. J-M Latvala/M Anttila 31m20.5s
2. S Loeb/D Elena +12.9s
3. P-G Andersson/J Andersson +22.5s
4. M Østberg/O-K Unnerud +24.0s
5. P Solberg/P Mills +27.4s
6. D Sordo/M Marti +32.2s
7. F Duval/D Giraudet +52.0s
8. S Ogier/J Ingrassia +54.8s
9. H Solberg/C Menkerud +1m04.7s
10. M Wilson/S Martin +1m33.0s

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