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Solberg starts well after a demanding day in Sweden
The Subaru World Rally Team entry of Petter Solberg and Phil Mills finished a treacherous first day of the Swedish Rally in a solid fifth overall. Team-mates Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot were early victims to the challenging conditions when a spin on the narrow routes dropped
them down the leaderboard.

The first day brought the expected but nevertheless unusual mix of ice and gravel in a combination that made the stages very tricky and unforgiving. The surfaces were incredibly demanding of crews as the traditionally hard-packed and snow-covered roads of this specialist snow event were covered with only patchy ice, revealing the gravel beneath.

The recent warmer weather meant that the snow banks were not as firm and when leaning on them crews risked bursting through into the woodland beyond, and a premature end to their rally. Without the buffer of the hard-packed banks usually experienced here, the narrow speed tests left no room for error and drivers did not use them as normal to help guide their cars through the fast bends.

“Today was not what you might expect from a route that is normally covered in deep snow. It’s a tough challenge for crews to adapt to and we have already seen some of the front-runners fall” said Team Principal David Richards. “Petter is in a solid position, and Chris will continue to fight for Manufacturers’ points but tomorrow will be a very different day and will present a whole new set of challenges. I am also very pleased to see Mads Ostberg in one of our private cars running so strongly in sixth place.”

Solberg started the rally strongly, winning his opening 1.9 kilometre head-to-head battle against local hero PG Andersson around the Karlstad trotting track on Thursday night. Overnight leaders of the rally, he and Mills delivered a consistent performance to avoid problems and mistakes on their way to finishing fifth overall in conditions that demanded absolute focus and precision. Pushing hard to achieve the second fastest stage time on the second running of the Karlstad spectator test, the duo finished the day pleased but wanting more tomorrow.

“I’ve been driving to my pace all day today, going as fast as we can in these conditions” said Petter Solberg. “They’re very strange as the first few stages this morning were good and icy but this afternoon was full gravel with lots of water in the ruts. If you go one hour north there’s 1.5 metres of snow, but in the stages there’s not that much. I think tomorrow will be warmer as well so we will see how the conditions in the stages are. Grip is very very tricky so it was very tough today. We’re going flat out, so we will see what happens tomorrow and Sunday.”

Atkinson started Friday’s first stage matching Solberg’s stage time, however on the morning’s second stage he slid wide on a narrow section of road and ran into a snow bank exiting a corner. As the banks are softer than normal, instead of guiding the car back onto the stage, it gave way and beached the Impreza. Undamaged, it nevertheless took the pair 15 minutes to free themselves of the soft snow and rejoin the stage.

“The conditions were very hard today” said Chris Atkinson. “The slide into the bank was quite a surprise for me. I wasn’t feeling entirely comfortable with the car in the conditions, which were a mixture of snow and gravel and so made the level of grip tricky. We would normally have made some changes at the midday service, but here we are only allowed to change tyres and refuel (in a remote service) so there’s not much you can do. The roads are so narrow here, and we can’t use the snow banks as they’re too soft. They’re very fast, so if you step a little off-line there’s just no room to sort it out before you’re off. Our focus now is on gaining manufacturer points by the end of Sunday. We’ll make some changes tonight and start again tomorrow.”

Results after day one
1.Latvala / Anttila Ford Focus RS WRC 07 1h 03m 33.3s
2.Hirvonen / Lehtinen Ford Focus RS WRC 07 +48.2m s (diff. to 1st)
3.Solberg / Menkerud Ford Focus RS WRC 07 +56.3s
4.Galli / Bernacchini Ford Focus RS WRC 07 +1m 02.0s
5.Solberg / Mills Subaru Impreza WRC2007 +1m 45.2s
6.Ostberg / Unnerud Subaru Impreza WRC +2m 15.1s
7.Wilson / Martin Ford Focus RS WRC 07 +2m 59.6s
8.Gardemeister / Tuominen Suzuki SX4 +3m 21.6s
9.Mikkelsen / Floene Ford Focus WRC +4m 05.8s
10.Sandell / Axelsson Peugeot 207 +5m 14.6s
46.Atkinson / Prévot Subaru Impreza WRC2007 +19m 11.5s

Tomorrow’s route
The second day of the Swedish Rally takes competitors through just over 120 competitive kilometres to the north of the Karlstad service park. The day includes the first of two remote services in the town of Hagfors; a location long-visited by the rally. The stages are likely to consist of more snow and ice, but with two passes of each stage and temperatures forecast to remain above zero, the ground will soon become cut up and rutted, making conditions very difficult on the already treacherous roads.
Subaru World Rally Team

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