Rd.1 Uddeholm Swedish Rally

Production Car World Rally Championship
 
8 to 11 February 2007

LEG ONE

Kristian Sohlberg shows the way in Snowy Sweden
Finnish SUBARU driver leads after every stage on opening leg

9 February 2007
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The P-WRC season got off to a dramatic start today as crews tackled the snow-laden stages north of Karlstad. After last night's Super Special, crews headed on to the first two groups of fast, flowing stages that are a favourite for the drivers here in Sweden. It was a great opener to the 2007 P-WRC season for the SUBARU-equipped drivers, as fie of the top six positions were filled by the iconic cars. The day dawned bright and crisp, and remained so throughout the first leg's tests. With the ice underneath, the roads proved very slippy and incredibly quick. The comment from all the drivers is than there's a little bit of a 'push' on these icy roads when you 'lean-in' on these very narrow tyres. There's a little bit of understeer.

Leading every stage of the opening day was local man Kristian Sohlberg in his SUBARU Impreza spec C. The level of fight in today's tests was such that after eight special stages, the man who maintained the lead all day long was 5.7 seconds ahead of second-placed Juho Hanninen. The pair were followed by rising Finnish star Anton Alen in third, also in a SUBARU, another twenty seconds back. Behind this group was a trio of Imprezas, occupying positions fourth to sixth. Swedish driver Oscar Svedlund led 2005 P-WRC champion Toshi Arai, ahead of Mirco Baldacci. It was five Imprezas in the top six after the first gruelling day of battle.

The fight for the lead was never in much doubt as Sohlberg controlled the pace ahead of his rivals.There was quite a tussle in the two places behind however, as Alen and Svedlund swapped positions no fewer than four times throughout the day. Their battle on SS5 saw Hanninen leapfrog the pair of them as he headed for second. Meanwhile, Toshi Arai maintained a steady position on leg one, ending the day in the place he started, fifth. Right behind the Japanese sits Mirco Baldacci, just one minute off the lead after seventy minutes of competitive running.

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Reigning P-WRC champion Nasser Al Attiyah played it safe on this opening day of tests, preferring to make sure he kept in the hunt for a points-haul at the end of the event. He is eighth after the first eight stages.

The accolade of steadily maintaining position surely has to go to Russian driver Alexander Dorosinskiy, who never left 11th place all day. He reported to be very impressed with the roads here in Sweden, and was hoping to reduce the gap to Nutahara and Higgins, both just ten seconds in front of him, on the second day of competition.

Kristian Sohlberg led after every stage of the opening day, though it was drama-filled nonetheless. The Finn had a short excursion during SS3, but instantly came back to the road, which was fortunate. On the following test, he took more care - just to get back on an even keel. The final stage of the morning saw him bend the rear suspension, though that would be fixed at the Lunchtime Service. At the end of the day, his confidence showed when he commented that he had more than enough to keep the two ensuing Swedes behind him for the remainder of the rally.
"I've had a very good day. The Yokohama tyres have been very good, and the car has been fabulous. I thought I was a little bit too careful on SS7, but it was right to measure my pace a little more. I lost a little time, but strategically, it was worth it."

Anton Alen reckoned he was trying too hard on SS2, and lost a little time as a result. On the following stage he went OK, though on SS4: "I felt the pace notes were a little too cautious, and we could have been faster. I was a little annoyed about that, but everything on the car is OK, and I'm very happy with the car." "Basically, I feel things are pretty good, but I'm using a little too much caution here and there - and that's costing us valuable time. I could be faster, but on my first time here, I'm a little more careful. The car has been very good all day, though as far as getting by the two guys in front, that's looking pretty difficult.I will however, be pushing hard tomorrow."

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Local man Oscar Svedlund had no problems at all with the car; though felt the last 5 or 6 kilometres of SS4 were incredibly slippery. "Those are some of the slipperiest roads I've ever driven!" exclaimed the Swede. His afternoon was spent fighting the attempts of Anton Alen, in a battle that saw the pair change positions throughout the day.

Marking his first day of competition in a SUBARU, Mirco Baldacci was treating this experience as his first real test of the car, as it's the first time he's driven it. In the morning, he experienced some understeer, but the team dialled that out in the Lunchtime Service with a couple of minor suspension adjustments. The afternoon saw the older Baldacci sibling increase his pace, his engineer giving a few handling modifications to to help his effort. It seems to have worked, as at the end of the first day, he is sitting just a couple of seconds behind former champion Toshi Arai. We can expect a big fight for that position on leg two tomorrow.

Toshi Arai experienced a bit of drama on SS2, the opening test of the morning. Outward appearances showed just minor body damage to the car, but they weren't taking any chances so didn't push too hard for the remaining two stages of the morning, preferring to have things checked at lunchtime rather than taking any unnecessary risks. "We found the car quite tricky in the icy conditions, running along the stages like a toboggan on a toboggan run - it's that fast!" We're very happy to have taken the second-fastest time on SS7, beamed the Japanese driver; tomorrow, we'll try to lift the pace and get closer to the guys in front."

Nasser Al Attiyah had a steady morning, though wanted to be travelling faster. " I'm really enjoying the stages here in Sweden, and aim to come away from here with some points." quoted the Qatari driver. They changed the set-up a little bit at lunchtime, and the car was definitely better in the afternoon. At the end of the day, he had the following comment: "In the afternoon's stages, we came from tenth to eighth and we'll try tomorrow to push and try to take some good points. I'm quite enjoying myself here in Sweden, but am in awe of the Scandic pace."

Alex Dorosinskiy said he doesn't want to talk about anything until the end of the rally. However, his co-driver had the following comment: "On SS2 we went straight on at a T-junction, losing a little time. Luckily, we were able to come back on the road. We drove the next couple of stages more carefully." Alexander Dorosinskiy: "We really pushed today, and are looking forward to running just as hard tomorrow. The roads here are just amazing! It's my first time here. I must say I'm surprised at the pace. We know what we need to do to go faster - it's a lot of work with the pace notes."

Loris Baldacci, younger brother of Mirco, played himself in well on the first day, steadily learning the characteristics of this snow rally, and his new co-driver. He jumped two positions on the last stage, past Aigner and Prokop to end the day 13th in Group N.

George Donaldson

STI Group N Project General Manager:
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"It's great to be leading the first event of the 2007 Production championship, and what a great drive by all of our drivers today, led by Kristian Sohlberg. It's been a tough day because the roads are very, very fast - and as such, they require the greatest level of commitment of any rally, even exceeding the determination required for successful performance on Rally Finland. The Imprezas have all been 100% reliable all day, and that's really important for the teams and the drivers - especially the new drivers. We have five cars in the top six - but I'm more interested in seeing where we are at the end of leg three. It's going to be very tough; we have incredible opposition from Juho Hanninen and our drivers are going to have to pull out all the stops to stay in front tomorrow. The weather conditions have been ideal, the drivers on their first time here have all survived, and that's no mean feat. All in all, I'm delighted with our kick-off to the 2007 championship season on the first leg, and I hope I can say the same at the end of leg three,"

Leg two features six more stages of hair-raising action as drivers try to consolidate their positions ahead of the final day of competition on Sunday.


Pos Driver Car Name Time   Diff  
1 Kristian SOHLBERG SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:09:46.7 0.0
2 Juho HÄNNINEN Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:09:52.4 +5.7
3 Anton ALÉN SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:10:12.9 +26.2
4 Oscar SVEDLUND SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:10:23.1 +36.4
5 Toshihiro ARAI SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:10:51.8 +1:05.1
6 Mirco BALDACCI SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:10:53.7 +1:07.0
7 Armindo ARAUJO Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:11:49.1 +2:02.4
8 Nasser Saleh AL-ATTIYAH SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:12:07.8 +2:21.1
9 Mark HIGGINS Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:12:15.8 +2:29.1
10 Fumio NUTAHARA Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:12:18.3 +2:31.6