26 Feb 08
The difficult conditions of Rally Mexico have traditionally suited the Subaru team reasonably well. Petter Solberg got off to an excellent start on its inaugural WRC appearance in 2004 and took the early lead, but when his car memorably failed to start at the service control he resorted to pushing, and when other people gave him a hand he incurred time penalties and finished fourth overall.
Solberg won the following year - his last proper victory in the WRC - and established another early lead in 2007 before a freak technical problem - when a broken fan blade pierced an oil pipe - brought his rally to a premature end. Chris Atkinson also went well there in 2007, running as high as second overall before turbo problems dropped him to fifth. The fact that engine problems ruined both drivers' rallies last year was especially disappointing for the team as the flat-four boxer engine in the Subaru Impreza WRC seems especially strong at high altitude and loses less power than most.
To prepare for Mexico, the team held a four day gravel test in Spain straight after the Swedish Rally. This gave Solberg two and a half days and Atkinson one and a half days to develop a setup for Mexico, and future gravel rallies, and to test Pirelli's new gravel tyre. The team also tested suspension and damper components during what was the final test for the WRC2007 as the emphasis shifts to the keenly awaited Impreza WRC2008.
Until the replacement Impreza makes its debut, Solberg and Atkinson will continue with the Impreza WRC2007 and once again both are aiming to do the best they can with the machinery available. As with Monte Carlo and Sweden, Petter and Chris will be concentrating on clean, consistent performances rather than Petter's old 'maximum attack'. "We go to Mexico knowing that we have won here in the past, but we don't approach it any differently to Monte or Sweden," said Solberg. "We made some good steps forward in the test last week, so we go to Mexico with a good setup. We'll drive our own rally, push as hard as we can and see what happens. I hope we will be strong again here as it's good for everyone if we can be fighting at the front."
Atkinson said "It's a difficult rally with the altitude and the conditions, but we approach it with the same strategy as we have started this year with. Last year we had a good result and good pace on the first day, so if we can maintain consistency throughout the event then I hope we can get a good finish. We have a strong engine in the car that seems to perform well at altitude which I think is one of the reasons we go well here. I like the feeling of the rally as it's good to have such a variation in speed and conditions that keeps you entertained. Visually it's appealing and very different, and that's what rallying is all about."