Top three positions for both Imprezas after stormy opener in Argentina
The Subaru World Rally Team has both Impreza WRC2007s in the top three positions overall after a rain-beaten first day of competition on Rally Argentina, the fourth round of the World Rally Championship.
After a hot summer, flash rains in the morning left the stages muddy and rutted whilst ensuing fog added another component to the treacherous mix.
Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot produced a solid and measured performance to finish the day in second position, just eight seconds clear of teammates Petter Solberg and Phil Mills who strengthened the team's effort with third place in their number five car. After what was a turbulent day, consistent pace from both crews rewarded the Subaru World Rally Team with its best start to a rally this season.
"Both Petter and Chris performed very well in some of the trickiest conditions we've seen this year, and they should both be very pleased with their positions" said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. "It is a very good start to the event, and is testament to the amount of work the whole team are putting in. It is a long rally so we will have to work hard to maintain this momentum over the next two days."
Despite bringing the running date forward this year to the end of March and Argentine summertime, it proved today to be another classic Rally Argentina with a demanding mix of rain, fog and mud. The famed watersplashes that were looking decidedly lacklustre only days ago have swelled considerably with the last few days' rain, much to the delight of the fanatic locals who carefully chose their vantage points to taste the spray from each passing car.
The first morning of competition brought weather completely uncharacteristic of the region's dry summer, but nevertheless expected at this time of year. Heavy rain hit the morning stages and the already tricky sandy roads quickly turned very muddy and became increasingly slippery and treacherous.
The day also brought unusual conditions for Pirelli's hard compound gravel tyre which has to be used by all competitors and took a long time to warm up to their optimum temperature. The resulting lack of grip across the field brought driver skill and talent to the fore as crews had to finesse their machines through the unforgiving Argentine landscape that claimed so many victims.
Atkinson/Prevot were the fourth crew to start the day and Solberg/Mills were sixth on the road. Both crews battled increasingly deteriorating road conditions throughout the day, especially on the afternoon's second passes. Lying fourth and fifth overall after the first stage, the Subaru duo did exactly what was required to climb two places each as front-runners started to fall foul of the worsening conditions.
"Today has been tough but I'm pleased with second place" said Chris Atkinson. "I made a mistake on stage eight and we lost quite a bit of time so the gap to Petter is much smaller now. You really kick yourself when you give away that much time, but that's what can happen in these conditions. Tomorrow we will have to push just as hard so it will be another tough day. It's great for the team to have two cars in the top three, but Galli and Sordo are not so far behind, and we have seen how much things can change today, so it won't be easy."
"We had some problems today, like everyone else, but we are in third place so it's not bad at all" said Petter Solberg. "I didn't feel comfortable in the conditions on the last loop of stages today and we lost a lot of time, but we will make some more changes tonight and then keep pushing hard tomorrow. The gaps are quite small so we have to push hard but we will see. The weather was such a big part today, and it will be totally different again tomorrow so we will do our best and see how it goes."
This rally is notoriously harsh, but on the opening day the stages were made more so by the fact that every stage was run twice. Previously on this event only a selection of stages have been repeated, so this time surface deterioration proved more of a challenge for crews amid the deep mud and ruts in the soft surface.
The rain was no deterrent to the tens of thousands of enthusiastic rally fans who flocked from the surrounding villages and towns to line every corner of every stage. Finding what little shelter they could from the elements, the most avid secured their view of the turbocharged action from the very early hours of the morning.
The day took crews through nine stages and 150 competitive kilometres to the north of Cordoba and the service park. The day finished with a sideways blast around the spectator stage in the grounds of the Cordoba Stadium, taking the action back to the tens of thousands fans who lined the ceremonial start route on Thursday night.
Saturday is the longest of day of Rally Argentina with nine stages totalling just fewer than 155 competitive kilometres. The sandy roads take crews 70 kilometres south of the Villa Carlos Paz service park and the city of Cordoba to the towns of Santa Monica and San Agustin in the Santa Rosa de Calamuchita region. After the long and hot Argentine summer the stages had become hard-packed, but with the recent heavy rain they will become badly rutted and incredibly slippery. Past experience will be of significant benefit as the road conditions have changed since the recce crews conducted earlier in the week, so those who are able to adapt quickly and find the best grip will be fastest.