29 Feb 08
Toni Gardemeister and Gigi Galli both retired from Friday’s competition on the fourth stage of the day, the repeated 22km Alfaro test, which proved so problematic when it was run earlier as SS1.
After a difficult morning, when his Suzuki SX4 crawled through the stages because of an engine sensor failure, Gardemeister’s day came to an end when his car stopped 8.1km into SS4. Following the earlier retirement of his team-mate P-G Andersson’s car with piston damage, the Suzuki team will inspect Gardemeister’s car before deciding whether or not to rejoin on Saturday as a Superally entry.
Gigi Galli, who had been eighth after SS3, retired just metres into SS4 after sliding wide on a left-hand corner and breaking the right-hand rear suspension of his Ford Focus. As the damage was relatively minor Galli should be back again on Saturday as a Superally entry.
The stage was won by Petter Solberg in his Subaru Impreza WRC2007 which now had a full set of working brakes. “We were unlucky this morning, but we are still fighting,” said Solberg. “This rally is all about traction for me; it works well for a while then it seems to go. If the dampers go off and we lose traction then forget it, but on that one we got a good time. I expect the surface will be even looser tomorrow, so perhaps being fifth overall isn’t such a bad place to be.”
Rally leader Latvala was next fastest and extended his lead to seven seconds. “I’ve found a good rhythm and I’m enjoying myself,” he said. “My plan is to drive fast but not to take maximum risks - it’s not like Friday in Sweden. Still, we are driving a rally, so I’m not holding back.”
Latvala seemed unconcerned that leading after the first day would put him in the unenviable position of first through the stages on day two: “I don’t want to think about tomorrow or the rest of the rally too much, but okay, if you lead the rally then you have to be able to drive as first car on the road.”
Chris Atkinson was third fastest, despite an intercom problem that meant he only heard a third of the pace notes read by his co-driver Stephane Prevot. “I drove most of it from memory,” admitted Chris.
Sebastien Loeb was fourth fastest and held second place overall. It’s a great battle, and I’m trying very hard, but Jari was faster,” said Loeb. “I can’t do much better at the moment. I’m just trying to go flat out - there’s no problem but it’s very difficult to follow the rhythm here.”