March 13, 2005 Petter Solberg and the Subaru World Rally Team team claimed an emphatic victory in Corona Rally Mexico today. The Norwegian/Welsh pairing led from start to finish, winning by 34.5 seconds and now top the FIA World Rally Championship points table after a second successive win. Their success also marked Subaru's 46th WRC victory, the 45th with an Impreza and was the perfect result for the debut of the new Subaru Impreza WRC2005 – Solberg’s win in Sweden in the previous round had been with the 2004 car. Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin finished second and third respectively, claiming all-important points for Peugeot, which now leads the Manufacturers’ Championship by eight points over Ford. Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb put in a staggering final day performance taking an average of half a second per kilometre out of his two main rivals to leap frog into fourth place after a disastrous first day had dropped him back to 18th place in the second round of the World Rally Championship.
The final two stages and 62.65 competitive kilometres of Corona Rally Mexico proved as tough as the rest for the remaining crews and today was a leg of contrasts. The opening stage was the shortest of the event at 18.26 kilometres, while the final one was possibly the longest in the entire FIA World Rally Championship at 44.39 kilometres.
This third round of the 16-event season was the first all-gravel rally of the year. Characterised by essentially fast and smooth roads close to the rally base of León, 400km north of Mexico City, the event proved tough for both man and machine with few drivers escaping problems over the 14 speed tests covering 355.97km.
Bright sunshine throughout sent temperatures up to 28°C and brought large crowds into the hills around León to watch the action. It is the highest rally of the season, peaking at an altitude of 2737 metres, and it was estimated that the thinner air reduced the power of the cars by up to 30 per cent. The combination of high temperatures and altitude affected the brakes, with many drivers finding the brake pedal going straight to the floor on longer tests.
Petter Solberg adopted a cautious approach to the day, not prepared to jeopardise his position and the potential of a second consecutive victory after also claiming maximum points in Sweden. While the former World Rally Champion had his reservations about the new car prior to the start, all were unfounded and he romped to victory by 34.5 seconds, dedicating his win to the memory of Ryuichiro Kuze - the first President of Subaru Tecnica International and the man instrumental in launching the WRC campaign - who passed away last week.
“I was very pleased to win with the old car in Sweden and then it’s an incredible feeling to win with the new one here,” said Petter. “The tribute for the rally is for Mr. Kuze; it was him that made it possible for us to be here. I am so, so pleased! I was really nervous before the start because I was not completely happy with the new car, but this is a fantastic result for the whole team.”
Marcus Gronholm notched up his best result of the season, finishing second in the Peugeot 307 WRC. The Finn cruised to the finish with a comfortable advantage, relieved to have picked up all-important points for themselves and the team.
“Normally I would not be happy to finish second, but now it feels good after retiring in Sweden and not finishing so well in Monte-Carlo,” said Marcus. “Next time we will push harder to make it difficult for Petter.”
Gronholm’s Peugeot team-mate Markko Martin rounded off the podium positions, adding to Peugeot’s tally of points and rocketing them into the lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship.
The Estonian also took it easy over the closing leg, learning more about the car and tyres all the time. “It was a lot more difficult to come to the rally this year, but at the same time I was quite happy with the way things went,” said the 2004 Corona Rally Mexico winner. “I knew we had made some slight improvements on the set-up from Sweden and it definitely worked, but at shakedown I realised there were changes that had to be made for me.”
Sebastien Loeb finished a surprise fourth, powering up the leaderboard from an overnight sixth, overhauling Harri Rovanpera and Toni Gardemeister in the process. The French Citroen driver won both stages and holds fourth in the Drivers’ Championship.
“I’ve been pushing to the maximum all day,” said Loeb. “Stage 14 I drove perfectly; it was one of my best performances ever.” Harri Rovanpera finished fifth in the lead Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 with Toni Gardemeister – who has been suffering with the flu all weekend - claiming sixth to extend Ford’s points scoring tally to 47 rallies with the Focus RS World Rally Car. The Finns maintained their 100 per cent record in this season's FIA World Rally Championship and edged the BP-Ford squad closer to a magical 50 consecutive points finishes, a record dating back to the Monte Carlo Rally in 2002.
Final Classification of the Corona Rally Mexico 2005
1. P. Solberg/Ph. Mills (Subaru Impreza) 2. M. Grönholm/T. Rautiainen (Peugeot 307) + 34.5 s 3. M. Märtin/M. Park (Peugeot 307) + 1 m 38.3 s 4. S. Loeb/D. Elena (Citroën Xsara) + 3 m 51.1 s 5. H. Rovanperä/R. Pietilainen (Mitsubishi Lancer) + 3 m 58.1 s 6. T. Gardemeister/J. Honkanen (Ford Focus) + 4 m 05.6 s 7. A. Warmbold/M. Orr (Ford Focus) + 6 m 01 s 8. G. Panizzi/H. Panizzi (Mitsubishi Lancer) + 6 m 01.7 s 9. A. Schwarz/K. Wicha (Skoda Fabia) + 8 m 05.3 s
FIA World Rally Championship after round 3 - Manufacturers1. Peugeot 31 points, 2. Ford 23 pts 3. Mitsubishi 23 pts 4. Subaru 20 pts 5. Citroen 16 pts 6. Skoda 4 pts
FIA World Rally Championship after round 3 - Drivers
1. P. Solberg, 20 points 2. M. Martin, 19 pts 3. T. Gardemeister, 17 pts 4. S. Loeb, 15 points 5. M. Gronholm, 12 pts 6. H. Rovanpera, 11 pts - 7. G. Panizzi, 7 pts 8. H. Solberg, 4 pts 9. D. Carlsson, 3 pts 10. M. Stohl, 3 pts 11. G. Galli, 2 pts 12. R. Kresta, 2 pts 13. A. Warmbold, 2 pts
Odds for World Championship following the race: P Solberg 2.10 S Loeb 2.25 M Gronholm 8.00 M Martin 9.00 T Gardemeister 15.00 F Duval 67.00 H Rovanpera 81.00 G Panizzi 101.00
David Lapworth, Subaru World Rally Team Principal: A fantastic performance from Petter and a great result for the team. Introducing a new car is always a bit of a nervous time, but today's result is a fitting reward for all the hard work that the team has put in. Of course it's difficult to cover everything in testing, but I was pretty confident that the new base car was very good. Now, thanks to the excellent relationship between Petter and Pierre (Genon, chief engineer) we're making some encouraging progress with the set-up and fine-tuning, which looks good ahead of the forthcoming gravel rallies. Chris too did a great job this weekend. He's definitely got the potential to be a future star, but to get there he needs to be given time to learn and develop as a driver. At this stage in his career overall results are of no consequence, we're very pleased with the progress he's made. Like Petter, I know Mr Kuze would have appreciated today's result. He was with the team at its formation back in 1989, for our first WRC win in 1993, all our Championship wins, right through to our 45th victory in Sweden last month. He will be sadly missed.
Petter Solberg, Subaru: It's incredible, I'm just so happy! To get a win with the old car in Sweden and another with the new one here is a great feeling - for sure there's still more to come from this car but I'm very happy with the progress we've made already. It's also very special to be able to win here for Mr Kuze. Without him, none of this would be possible, and I'm pleased to be able to dedicate this win to him. At the end of the day this result is all about teamwork, and I'm lucky to have such a great group of people behind me, from Phil in the car to everyone else at Subaru, I can't thank them enough. The Championship is getting pretty close now, there's some very close competition and I reckon this year will turn out to be one of the greatest battles we've ever seen in the WRC.
Marcus Gronholm, Peugeot: I was going very slowly today. I wasn't even trying to catch Petter. Yesterday was tough. In order to solve our recurring brake problems, we had to change brake pads after every stage, so it was quite a busy day. The rally was trickier this year than last year, as the surfaces were so much harder. I think everyone had a few problems, so to still be here is the main thing. For the team, it's good. Everyone knows I can win and now they know I can come second. But this doesn't mean I will stay second all year.
Markko Martin, Peugeot: It has been a good weekend. We didn't have as many brake problems as Marcus. We had to keep an eye on [Citroen's] Francois Duval, but once he retired the pressure was off. The car has been very reliable and we kept out of trouble. It's a very good result for the team. Peugeot is now in the lead of the manufacturers' championship and I am still second in the drivers' standings. That's not a bad position to be in. I definitely feel better about the car than I did before this rally - I have a better feeling for the Pirelli tyres and the car.
Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Peugeot Team Director: I'm very pleased that our drivers have followed our instructions to bring back two cars with the maximum number of manufacturers' championship points perfectly. Their performance clearly shows that they are driving within their potential and that of the 307 WRC.
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen: I really like this rally in Mexico, but it does not like me! I have been pushing very hard since yesterday and today I turned it up a further notch. I honestly drove the final stage as though victory depended on it. It was a near perfect run, perhaps one of the best of my career! Finishing 4th allows me to stay on the heels of the championship leaders and also keeps Citroen in the frame."
Francois Duval, Citroen: They say problems come in threes. I've now done three rallies without being able to defend my chances all the way to the flag and the championship will really begin for me in New Zealand. That said, this was my first outing on gravel with the Xsara. My pace allowed me to compete for third place before my problems. That gives an idea of the potential of the car and the team and that is reassuring concerning my familiarisation with both.
Toni Gardemeister, Ford: I couldn't have driven any faster today, I was flat out all the way. I'm a little disappointed with my final position but happy that we finished in the points. I made some mistakes on the opening day and had it not been for that I think I could have finished higher. I didn't have a good feeling with the car yesterday but the Focus has been strong throughout on what has been a difficult and tough rally.
Malcolm Wilson, BP-Ford Team Director: I'm pleased that Ford kept its points-scoring record intact on a difficult rally but disappointed that Toni could not hold onto fourth. It was the first time Toni has competed here so he goes away with good experience of a tricky event. Roman put in a very good performance. It was his debut in Mexico also and he had a new co-driver alongside so his times were encouraging.
Chris Atkinson, Subaru: Obviously I'm a bit disappointed not to finish, but I think I've learned so much this weekend it's almost irrelevant. The speed has been encouraging; especially as I wasn't pushing so much that we went off the road all the time. The new car feels great, and there's definitely more pace in it yet. In New Zealand I'm going to be looking to get some good experience of the stages and hopefully a useful finish position too.
The Next Round
Round four of the FIA World Rally Championship starts in four week's time when teams will cross the globe for the start of Rally New Zealand. Based in Auckland, the event is a popular one with the drivers who revel in the fast and flowing 'roller coaster' roads, with their heavily banked cambers and rapid direction changes. It's an event that requires strong levels of commitment and natural car control. Starting on 8 April, the three-day event will conclude when the winning car crosses the finish ramp on Sunday 10 April in Auckland.