01 Nov 08
After the passage of 82 cars earlier in the day, road conditions on the repeated 31km Nikara stage had changed considerably for the afternoon repeat, with the soft gravel surface now deeply rutted and littered with rocks dragged out by the cars.
The stage was always going to be a tough challenge for the WRC crews but it was especially bad for Suzuki driver P-G Andersson who dropped from sixth to ninth place after stopping to change a wheel. “I came into a junction 9km from the start and the soft ground just pulled the tyre off the wheel rim, so I had to stop and change it,” he explained. “There was nothing else I could do - that’s just how it is.”
P-G’s team-mate Toni Gardemeister also reported problems in the treacherous conditions. “This isn’t like a rally at all,” he said. “Something is wrong with the rear differential; the temperature is up to 160. I don’t know if it will be okay - we still have far to go.”
Jari-Matti Latvala set the fastest time, despite insisting he was taking a steady approach. “There were some big, big ruts in there so I was a bit cautious,” he said. “I picked up a puncture on the previous stage and I didn’t want to have another.”
Mikko Hirvonen brought his Ford to the finish in the second fastest time. “It was so rough and soft you could get a puncture on every corner,” he said. “I had to back off in some places and take it carefully to try and avoid them.”
Sebastien Loeb was third fastest but unhappy with his pace through the technical sections. “I’m losing time when the road is rough, narrow and twisty and I don’t know why.” he said. “I tried to go fast. I tried to push but I’m losing time there. The stage was tough. It was fast with big ruts and you never know if they’ll spit you out.”
Both Subaru World Rally Team drivers were happy with their performances. Fourth fastest Petter Solberg said: “It’s a bloody good time, actually! That was not bad, you know. I’m losing time in the ruts - they’re a bit too big - but I had fun.” Chris Atkinson didn’t want to say what his team had changed in service but was far happier with the balance of his car. “They didn’t change too much, but it made sense to do what they did - and it worked,” he said with a grin.
Stobart driver Matthew Wilson had a close encounter with some of local wildlife but otherwise had a forgettable stage. “There was a stag standing in the middle of the road and it wouldn’t move out of the way,” he explained. “Apart from that it was just ruts from start to finish. It was really difficult so I just tried to get through. It wasn’t enjoyable.”