Subaru's Phil Mills, co-driver to Petter Solberg reflects on the Acropolis Rally, frustration on the first stage and a storming recovery drive to finish fifth overall.

Q:
Phil [Mills]. You and Petter [Solberg] were a lot of people's favourite for a win in Greece. What happened?

Phil Mills:
Well yes, beforehand Petter and I were feeling pretty good about the rally too. All the pre-event stuff had gone smoothly, and following the second-place we'd got there the year before, we knew we stood a good chance of our first victory.

But it really all went wrong for us on the very first stage. It was completely unbelievable. We had a half-spin on a twisty section - not that there was anything unusual about that - but the car stalled, again not normally cause for concern, perhaps 8-12 seconds that sort of thing, you just push the button and away she goes. But for some reason when Petter pushed the button the engine just cranked over and over and didn't start. We sat there for a minute and a half before it got going, and we were lucky it did at all, as there wasn't a lot left in the battery at that point. From then on we were at a massive disadvantage, that's a huge amount of time to make up, and although we did our best we just weren't able get the guys at the guys at the front.

Q:
What went through your mind when you were sitting there?

PM:
Well to begin with there wasn't a problem at all. We stopped, but it was just a hiccup in what was otherwise an excellent start, we just went about the procedure to re-start and get back on the pace. But as the time went on, we could feel it slipping away. We were looking at each other in the car in disbelief. Like neither of us could believe what was going on.

Q:
If that happened to me on the Playstation, I'd have given up and re-started the stage. Did you find it difficult to motivate yourself to continue when you knew the lead was so far away?

PM:
We were bitterly disappointed, I think on the overall leader-board we were down in the low 20's, but at the end of leg 1 we had a calm look at the situation and felt if we pushed hard we could get up to about 14th place. So we did, and then things started to improve and it looked like we could break the top ten. By the start of leg three we had a chance of the podium. It was a quite amazing recovery, but it's hard not to imagine what we could have done without the stall.

Q:
Have you found out what caused the problem?

PM:
I doubt we'll ever know the exact cause, because for some reason the on-board data-logging equipment hadn't switched itself on at the start of the stage as it should. The in-car cameras are wired into the same circuit, so there wasn't even any in-car footage to analyse. From a TV point of view it's a shame no one got to see the incident - it was a pretty tense time.

Q:
Later on we saw you working on Petter's steering wheel while he was driving - what happened there?

PM:
At that point the time had been lost, the battle for the lead was pretty much over, and we were just flying though the stages. Petter was quickest through the first split, and then noticed that his steering wheel was wobbling.

He called across to me, but I was concentrating 100% on calling the notes and didn't catch much of what he was saying. I though perhaps he'd said something about a tyre, like it had gone soft or something. He'll do that if we need to change a wheel so I can put the gloves on and get the wheel gun ready to save a bit of time when we stop. He said something for a second time, and then shouted 'Phil get the tools!' and I could see what he was on about. I loosened off my belts a little and reached round behind the seat to get the tool kit. At first I thought it was the large centre nut in the middle of the boss that was loose, but I checked it with a socket and it was tight.

Petter did an incredible job of keeping the car straight when I was lightening the nut as he had to hold the wheel from turning with the force of the socket and keep the position on the road. When we were doing this we saw the real cause of the problem - the ring of six little bolts that hold the wheel to the boss had worked loose. Luckily Petter managed to tighten a couple back using his fingers while I got back on with the notes.

By that time we'd driven about 4kms without them and we had to wait for a junction another couple of kms up the road before I could find the correct page to continue. Once we got to the end we finger-tightened the rest up and headed back to service - it wasn't a very long way.

Q:
You still set the second-quickest time on the stage - how did Petter drive with you doing that to the wheel?

PM:
He didn't slow down much, but without the notes he couldn't tell what was coming up, or cut corners. So he just played it safe for a while, moved the car to the centre of the road, didn't cut anything and just kept it going. He also did a good job of missing the rocks in the road, if we'd hit any of those they could have spun the steering wheel out of our hands.

Q:
As a co-driver have you ever had to do anything as bizarre before?

PM:
Thankfully nothing quite like that before no. But last year when we lost a front wheel in Kenya I sat on the boot lid for about 3kms acting as a counterbalance to keep the front corner off the ground. We had to give up on that occasion, but it was definitely a ride to remember!