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Chris Atkinson column: Solid day one in Wales
15 September 2012 WRC Team MINI Portugal newbie Chris Atkinson reflects on day one of Wales Rally GB, the tenth round in the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship and his first event with the MINI John Cooper Works WRC car on gravel...
Chris here again. We're at the end of the first proper day of competition at Wales Rally GB. It was a really long day covering six stages and a total of 146.46km. Overall I can say Stéphane [Prevot – my co-driver] and I had a pretty solid day in our MINI. No major problems and we're happy with how the MINI's working. We finished the day in 11th overall, but we can go quicker and that's the plan for tomorrow. We're taking it step-by-step, but we'll push a bit more.
Our alarms went off pretty early this morning as we set off from the Llandudno Parc Fermé just after 6am after doing the Ceremonial Start last night. It was a pretty cool start by the sea with loads of people and good atmosphere. We also took part to in an autograph session with all the other WRC drivers - an impressive turnout and nice to meet fans from all over Wales and Great Britain.
The first stage of the rally Dyfnant was a stage I had never driven before but it was a very nice stage and I found a good rhythm. Our speed this morning was ok - we aimed to be one second off the pace as an average over the weekend, we were one and a half seconds a kilometre on only our first day which was pretty good, especially making sure we didn't take any risks.
We picked a brake problem at the end of the morning loop. Our MINI's brake pads started to overheat and it meant we had to slow down a little bit in the afternoon to avoid further damage. We'll change the brake pad material this evening at Flexi Service and hopefully we won't have the same problem tomorrow We'll be able to work on the set up and build the speed up. We kind of had to survive through the afternoon stages but overall I'm quite happy with the car. Tomo and I have a couple of good set-up ideas we want to try for tomorrow which we hope will work.
The rain yesterday and the wet conditions under the shade of the trees made tyre choice for today pretty easy. We went with soft tyres as did all the other WRC drivers. The tyres had to be fitted on the MINI yesterday evening ready for today's stages, which made things a bit trickier as we had to do our weather summary yesterday and make sure the information was good for today, which isn't always very obvious in Wales. Everybody made the same choice for the afternoon loop as well at Remote Service in Newtown as the wear rate was such that nobody was concerned softs again it was and that worked well.
Tomorrow it will be a bit more difficult to choose tyres as the stages are more abrasive and harder, but I think in all probability we'll stay with soft tyres in the morning and change to hards in the afternoon depending on the wear and how the tyres look at midday service.
I really enjoy Rally GB. It's one of the WRC's classic events and this year is its 80th anniversary. Some of the stages here are legendary and it brings back many memories of some of the best and the worst times in the WRC - Petter winning the World Title in 2003 and the tragic loss of Beef in 2005 are just a couple of many.
My team-mate Paulo [Nobre] had a good day as well, he says that having competed here four times now he feels a bit at home. He likes Rally GB a lot and he's having a great time. He's an amazing guy, mint personality and his enthusiasm is infectious. He's one of the nicest guys I've ever met and he really shows his passion for rallying and for life. It's nice when you travel so much around the world and you meet people like Paulo who really bring something positive to the experience.
Well that's all for today from my side, tomorrow it's another big day and I'm really looking forward to seeing what we'll be able to do.
Bye for now. Atko