12 November 2004
The opening leg of the 2004 Telstra Rally Australia saw competitors fight it out in dry, hot conditions on 8 competitive stages, including two Super Specials run in the evening. Dominant throughout Leg One was RED World Rally Team driver Alister McRae who was quick right out of the box, driving so smoothly, so quickly, so confidently - and doing an absolutely great job straight away. The Scot is on familiar territory in these parts, and his pace on the opening leg was a clear illustration of that knowledge as he keeping a top on 7 stage after SS3.
Fellow title-hopeful Niall McShea had a dreadful start Down Under as a less than optimal tyre choice in the opening stages left the Ulsterman languishing back in the pack, some 45 seconds to one minute adrift. From 8th, McShea fought back gallantly, and steadily gained positions throughout the afternoon. He eventually finished the first day's tests in 4th place and is set to take the fight to those in front of him on Leg Two's stages tomorrow.
Unfortunately for Marcos Ligato, the Argentinean was out with a blown oil seal before the day's first stage had even begun.
Mark Higgins also had a miserable morning, and couldn't really get to grips with the car in the conditions. On stage 5, he managed to roll his mount onto its side, though quickly got it back on its wheels. He then got stuck in a ditch, a mishap he also recovered from. After all that, he still was not very happy with his car and is hoping to improve on his current position of 10th on tomorrow's stages.
Nasser Al Attiyah has been keeping up a steady pace throughout the day, his position gently easing up as the stages played out. Al Attiyah's ascent to 7th from a starting position of 12th is proof of his growing familiarity with the series, and his steadily increasing pace.
Fabio Frisiero had a really enjoyable morning, playing himself in well, getting used to the conditions. He remarked on the beauty of the area and the speed of the stages here in Western Australia. Presently lying in 9th, the Italian has made significant progress from his starting position of 15th after the first of the three days' stages.
Toshi Arai had a handbrake switch problem on the second stage this morning, making it a little difficult to get around the slow hairpins. The crew got that fixed at first service and the Japanese was on his way for the second group of stages. Unfortunately, Arai had a puncture on SS6, sending him plummeting down the order. The Japanese posted the 11th fastest time on the stage as a result of the flat which lost him over three minutes. Throughout the rest of the day's stages, he drove at 'maximum attack', eating into the lead of the others and finishing 6th overall.
Alister McRae will be hoping there is not too much road-cleaning going on tomorrow as he leads the pack of PCWRC runners on the second day of competition. He'll also be eager to hold onto his first place position as Leg Two unfolds. At the moment, everything's looking pretty good for McRae. Considering his pace and consistency on the opening leg of competition, the Scot is surely the man to beat among the PCWRC competitors.
McRae, Niall McShea, and Toshi Arai are all going to be fighting hard on Leg Two, consolidating their positions for the final attack on Sunday's stages. McShea is the top among the SUBARU runners in terms of points, lying only 2 shy of the overall PCWRC leader. A top performance tomorrow is crucial if he is to make the leap on the final day's tests.
"Today's running has been absolutely trouble-free. We're driving tactically now, putting our knowledge of the terrain to good use. Tomorrow, I feel we'll be taking it easy on the stages. We're absolutely confident of a win on this familiar territory and won't be pushing hard unless we know we can gain a bit of capital."
Niall McShea - Car #34
"I'm confident enough with our tactical position and feel we can still do something about this situation we're presently faced with. We're looking to make some headway on our position tomorrow."
Toshi Arai - Car #31
'We've got the benefit of a clean road tomorrow and I'm hopeful that we can make some inroads to the leaders. Basically, I'm just going to have to push and hope for a bit of luck at the same time - and see what happens with the others around me."
Fabio Frisiero - Car #45
"I find the wild Australian stages to be absolutely beautiful. As for the car, we're reporting no problems at all. I have to say that the stages are very, very fast here in Perth. At some times, the speeds are a little scary! I'm really enjoying myself, and am having a great time learning these fast tests as well as looking forward to tomorrow and Sunday's stages."