Rd.2 Corona Rally Mexico

Production Car World Rally Championship
 
9 to 11 March 2007

LEG ONE

Close battle at the front as others scramble for pace

9 March 2007
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The first gravel event of the 2007 P-WRC season got underway this morning in the outskirts of the city of Leon, approximately 400 kilometres north of Mexico City. Crews were treated to some very treacherous and slippy stages right from the start of the day, and staying within the racing line became a fight for survival in some places.

Leg one took in six special stages, two loops of three run twice, followed by the Superspecial spectator stage, run twice in the evening in Leon.

Running their own race, the battle at the front between the SUBARU of Mirco Baldacci and Mitsubishi entrant Mark Higgins was breathtaking. The pair are really having a go, which may pay a dividend - though it could all go wrong. Only time will tell. Mirco reported no dramas at all today.

Surprises this morning include Nasser Al Attiyah, who, while running on SS2 with a slow puncture, ran out of road on a very fast corner, rolling the car into retirement. Both driver and co-driver are okay, but after barrel-rolling eight times, the car is not. We're not expecting SupeRally from him. It's a shame because he was right on the pace, running with the lead group throughout the day's opening test, Alfaro 1. A very disappointing start for the reigning P-WRC champion.

We also lost Alexander Dorosinskiy early on for unknown reasons, but expect him back under SupeRally tomorrow. Loris Baldacci had a terrific opening day on Rally Mexico early on, though went onto SupeRally on the second of the evening's Superspecial runs after taking a wheel off the car at the bridge that has caused woes for so many today.

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Toshi lost 45.9 seconds to the pace-setters Higgins and Mirco Baldacci with a puncture on SS4, the lead pair absolutely flying ahead of the rest of the P-WRC entrants. Otherwise, the Japanese reported no problems throughout the day. Cypriot driver Spyros Pavlides was another who had a dramatic start. He went off on SS1, damaging the front left of the car. He then spun on SS2 and stalled the car. On SS3, like so many others, he ran cautiously as so many were being caught out by the incredibly slippery conditions. His afternoon was taken at a slightly slower pace, but with steadier times as a result.

Kristian Sohlberg stuck very close to that fierce fight at the front, biding his time and see what would happen with the leaders later in the day. However, his afternoon was slowed somewhat by a puncture on SS5. Incredibly, the pair changed the wheel in just 90 seconds! Very, very impressive.

Leszek Kuzaj has had a dramatic start to Rally Mexico, spinning twice on the opening test, and once more on SS2. By SS3 he was right on the pace of the top runners, so more is expected of the Pole as the rally continues. Much the same as Toshi, he was a little nervous on the last test of the morning, his earlier dramas no doubt causing him to back off just a little. The afternoon was not kind to Kuzaj, his car suffering from an unidentified overheating problem. Hopefully the team will find a solution in tonight's Service.

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Widely tipped at the man who will make Rallying a household word in the U.S., American P-WRC debutant Travis Pastrana had a spin at the end of SS1, and then another on SS2, both losing quite a bit of time. His pace through SS3 was also more conservative as the earlier offs had been fairly major moments. In spite of the drama above, this has been a remarkably impressive start to his P-WRC career, running at a pace similar to his far more experienced rivals on this, the first day of his maiden WRC event. With the pace he's maintaining, there are huge things expected of this future world championship star. He was another to touch the barrier on the Superspecial, damaging the left rear in exactly the same spot as so many other competitors have done today.

There is a very well-defined, though narrow line through these wide Mexican roads, and if you come off that line on to the marbles, it's unbelievably slippy. Ken Block fell victim to exactly such conditions on SS1, coming up to a crest and a medium right corner. He braked a little late and couldn't coax the car back onto the line, slipping into a ditch, the car gently rolling over onto its roof. He will be back tomorrow, running under SupeRally.

Driver comments:
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Toshihiro Arai:
"SS1 and SS2 were just incredibly slippery. I made a little mistake on SS2, going wide into a corner and going into a ditch. We hit a large rock and bent the rim really badly. We are happy - and surprised - that we got away with it! We've changed our strategy after the puncture on SS4, now we're concentrating on getting to the finish."

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Mirco Baldacci:
"We're very happy with the car. Our tyre choice this morning was perfect too, so we've been able to run at a good pace on these opening stages. This is our first proper gravel event with this spec C Impreza and everything's working wonderfully."

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Kristian Sohlberg:
"We're running well, and are determined not to knock a corner off the car. After the puncture, we're over two and a half minutes back, so for us it's become a waiting game."

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Leszek Kuzaj:
"It's unbelievably slippy on the stages. The first two were really bad. Just before lunchtime we picked up the pace and the car was running beautifully. However, this afternoon we had an overheating problem, which we'll hopefully get sorted in Service this evening. It's good to be here in Mexico."

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Travis Pastrana:
"To be honest, we were just happy to get back to Service after our earlier adventures!" he said animatedly at lunchtime. "Our afternoon times are a little slower on the split times, but overall, we're faster. I'm hoping to make an improvement every day I'm here."


George Donaldson

STI Group N Project General Manager:
"It's great to see Mirco Baldacci running so well here, particularly as he's still learning the car. We know he's fast, so we're very happy to get him in our car. I'm terribly impressed by Travis Pastrana's performance here today, on his first-ever P-WRC event. He's in there fighting with drivers that are able to be European champions. It's a phenomenal mark that he's setting for himself in his first WRC event. Loris Baldacci has shown an increase in pace here. His year of learning the events is really starting to pay dividends. He's used to the SUBARU, and we can expect to see Loris moving up the rankings this season, I'm sure.

"It's been a tougher day than most people seemed to expect. Everyone always talks about this rally being rough before we come, and then they see the recce and they think it's going to be a bit smoother. Rally Mexico has proven tough for all the P-WRC cars. The two guys keeping their heads well above the rest are Mirco Baldacci and Mark Higgins. There's a massive battle for the lead, and that will continue throughout tomorrow we hope. Toshi is sitting in third place is a fairly secure position, but there's still a lot of fighting going on there. It's going to be just as intense tomorrow as it's been today.

Travis has very much impressed and lived up to his promise with his performance today. He seems to have thoroughly enjoyed this, his first day of using his own pace notes. He's really mapping out his future. It's great to see someone with such a disciplined approach. Spyros had a baptism of fire this morning, but managed to get it back on an even-keel this afternoon. Kristian had a bit of bad luck this afternoon with a puncture. He was very much in the fight for the lead earlier, but the puncture has knocked him back a fair way."

Tomorrow sees competitors run roughly the same distance as today, again completing six special stages before two more runs through the evening's Superspecial spectator stage.



Pos Driver Car Name Time   Diff  
1 Mark HIGGINS Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:32:18.0 -
2 Mirco BALDACCI SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:32:28.0 +10.0
3 Toshihiro ARAI SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:33:46.3 +1:28.3
4 Fumio NUTAHARA Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:34:00.3 +1:42.3
5 Leszek KUZAJ SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:35:09.5 +2:51.5
6 Kristian SOHLBERG SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:35:13.6 +2:55.6
7 Travis PASTRANA SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:35:19.1 +3:01.1
8 Stepan VOJTECH Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:35:30.8 +3:12.8