Stobart dominate final day world rally action in Greece Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson lit up the final day of the Acropolis Rally of Greece setting some scorching times on the closing stages of the event as...
Stobart dominate final day world rally action in Greece
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson lit up the final day of the Acropolis Rally of Greece setting some scorching times on the closing stages of the event as they chased manufacturer points. Each of the drivers took a stage victory on day three and they bagged the team's first ever one-two stage finish to complete the tough rally on a high note claiming five valuable points for the team.
After the rocky roads of Argentina and the searing heat of Sardinia, Acropolis Rally of Greece turned out to be even tougher as soaring temperatures combined with rough roads to present the ultimate test of drivers and equipment. And with the extra challenge of the high-altitude tests in the mountains on Friday afternoon, attrition rates were high throughout the event as the Acropolis Rally claimed some high-profile scalps. The 341km of stage distance also proved a tough test for the Pirelli Scorpion tyres which performed well throughout the rally in the high temperatures.
Hoards of fans turned out to watch the rally which kicked off with a ceremonial start at the historic Corinth Canal on Thursday night before the rally got underway in the mountains to the north of Rally HQ, in Loutraki, on Friday morning.
The rally couldn't have started worse for Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin who were forced to retire from day one due to an oil pressure problem on just the second stage of the event. Solberg meanwhile was struggling early on with brake problems and the set-up of his car but by the end of day one had managed to climb to fifth place overall giving himself excellent road position for day two.
Day two started with a celebration for the team as team principal Malcolm Wilson was awarded an OBE in The Queen's Birthday Honours List. But as the action got underway in the Peloponnese Region to the south of the Gulf of Corinth there was little to cheer about for Solberg and Cato Menkerud as they damaged their suspension three stages into the action. Moving to the inside of a right-hand bend to avoid the parked car of Dani Sordo, Solberg hit a rock and had to abandon his challenge for the day.
Wilson meanwhile had re-entered the rally under SupeRally conditions and was scything through the field from his overnight position of 32nd. By the end of the day he had posted a string of top-five times and climbed 14 places to put his Ford Focus RS WRC back in the manufacturer points.
With Solberg back in the rally on Sunday the chase for a double-points haul began and it was the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers who set the pace on the final morning. Wilson set the second fastest time on SS13 Loutraki closely followed by Solberg. And it was the Norwegian who produced a scintillating display of speed on the next stage Aghii Teodori, taking the stage win as the Stobart team picked up their first ever 1-2 in a stage as Wilson finished just behind. But it was the Briton's turn to notch up a stage victory on the final stage of the morning. The Stobart duo eventually secured 14th and 15th place overall with Wilson setting an incredible ten top-six times out of the 12 stages that he contested over the rally.
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BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver Mikko Hirvonen closed the gap on championship leader Sebastien Loeb taking his first victory of the year. It was a double-celebration for Ford as Jari-Matti Latvala took third place to put the team firmly back in the running for the manufacturers' title. Loeb's challenge came to a halt on Saturday morning as he crashed out of SS7 and the team's challenge was further damaged as Dani Sordo was also hit by problems on day two. Munchi's Ford driver Federico Villagra equalled his best ever WRC result with fourth place. The Citroen Junior team's young drivers posted some excellent times over the weekend with Sebastien Ogier taking his first ever WRC podium as he took second place with team mate Conrad Rautenbach a little further back in fifth.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It's been a very positive rally for us and we've consistently posted top-five times. There were still a few places where we could improve, even on the stage where we went fastest; to be honest it didn't feel anything special. But, from a performance point of view it's been great for us and it's just a bit frustrating that we had that problem on the first day. If we had got a clean run here then there's no reason why we couldn't have been on the podium. The rally, as normal, has been very tough and tricky and it has caught out a lot of the other drivers. I've also gained more experience, especially how to drive in these conditions and how to be less aggressive in order to preserve the tyres."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"This has not been one of my best rallies for sure. We have struggled all weekend with the feeling and set-up of the car and it was hard to be able to push, especially when these stages are so difficult. I was really frustrated on Saturday when we hit that rock as we were driving well and taking no major risks. Obviously we had good road position for today and that helped us get the fastest stage time, but we need to work on improving the feeling with the car for the next rally. I'm still the top non-factory driver in the championship and we still got points here for the Stobart team so it's not all bad."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"Matthew has stepped up a gear this weekend and has posted an impressive string of top-five times on a very challenging rally that has caught out even some of the best drivers in the world. Both he and Henning had their own individual problems which knocked them down the standings but the strength of the Focus on this tough event has helped them claim points for the team and consolidate its position in the manufacturer series."
Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
"Matthew's experience is really starting to show now and I've been extremely impressed by his times this weekend. Again we can see how his long term plan is working and his performance here will really help his confidence for the next few events; especially Poland, a new rally for everyone. Henning has done a good job as well and it's a shame that their individual problems have meant they weren't able to get drivers' points, but it does strengthen the position for the Stobart team in the championship."