ØSTBERG BATTLES FOR FOURTH AFTER ACTION-PACKED DAY IN SARDINIA
After an action-packed opening day on the sun-soaked island of Sardinia, Mads Østberg leads the way for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team and lies fifth after setting six impressive top-five stage times.
Fresh from his victory at the fourth round of the Norwegian Rally Championship – Rally Sørland – Østberg reported a perfect feeling in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC at the pre event Shakedown test on Thursday. His confidence in the car’s handling was reflected by four storming times in the morning’s opening loop and at the remote service, Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson were placed fourth overall.
Russian hotshot Evgeny Novikov also demonstrated an impressive show of speed today and was sitting in a career-best third place by the end of Stage 4, leading his M-Sport Stobart team-mate Østberg by 9.7 seconds.
A further top-five stage time followed for Novikov on the repeat afternoon loop but disaster struck when the 20-year-old rolled his Fiesta RS WRC 12 km into Stage 7, forcing him to retire. Both Novikov and his co-driver Stephane Prevot are reported to be OK and it is expected that the pair will be able to restart under SupeRally regulations tomorrow.
Britain’s Matthew Wilson struggled on the first loop of stages due to problems with the brakes on his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. An impact on Stage 4 also wreaked havoc with the car’s steering and made for difficult going on the rock-strewn repeat afternoon pass.
The remote service at Siamanna meant little could be done to rectify the brake and steering issues but Wilson gradually climbed the WRC leaderboard throughout the day to finish eighth overall. Brakes and a steering rack will be changed on Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC in service tonight.
P-G Andersson was third-fastest on today’s opening stage but an impact with a rock on Stage 2 broke the right steering arm on his Fiesta RS WRC. Andersson and co-driver Emil Axelsson stopped to change the steering arm and later in the stage they stopped to let team-mate Novikov past. These incidents along with a slow puncture on Stage 4 cost the Scandinavian pairing nearly 16 minutes and dropped the disappointed duo out of podium contention.
Despite a difficult morning, Andersson had a trouble-free afternoon and pulled into the end of the first day 30th overall.
M-Sport Stobart regular Henning Solberg had a drama-filled day after he collided with a bridge on Stage 3 causing suspected damage to the rear-right damper of his Fiesta RS WRC. Further damage was caused to the car with a fire which was extinguished by the marshals at the stage finish.
The M-Sport Stobart team worked relentlessly to sort the problem at the remote service but the afternoon was to prove even more troublesome for Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor as they were forced to retire on Stage 7 due to suspected engine problems. It has not yet been confirmed if Solberg will be able to return to the rally tomorrow.
Mads Østberg said:
“The most difficult problem today has been the change of grip – on most rallies you can predict grip change by the change of colour on the road surface but I couldn’t see the colour change today. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow and Sunday – so much has happened today that tomorrow could go any way. The guys in front are going very well but we have a good start position tomorrow so that could work well for us. I hope to move up and finish a bit higher after this weekend – I’d be happy with fifth but I have quite a close battle with Mikko [Hirvonen] and Sebastien [Ogier] now so hopefully I can keep chasing them tomorrow.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“The stages today were always going to be tough but they’ve been made even harder by the brake problems. We hit a rock on the last stage this morning [Stage 4] and I think it was that impact which damaged the rack. So this afternoon we had problems with both the brakes and the steering. It kept locking on the rough, faster sections and it kept affecting our splits. For sure, tomorrow will be a little easier as we know the stages better but it’s still going to be really rough out there. Hopefully the team can sort the brakes out at service and we can get back on it from the start – there’s still a long way to go in this rally so anything could happen.”
I hope to move up and finish a bit higher after this weekend – I’d be happy with fifth.
PG Andersson said:
“Now I must just concentrate on getting some good stage times on the board and we try to come back stronger tomorrow. We haven’t had as much time in the car as the others and maybe that was the cause for hitting the rock and going off the line but I can’t be sure. Shakedown was good yesterday – we had a nice feeling and had no problems on the first stage so we were disappointed to lose so much time on Stage 2. On this rally, you just have to keep on the road and avoid the rocks as much as you can. It’s been disappointing but tomorrow is a new day so we will just see what happens.”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“I expected some advantage with the road position I had today but I didn’t imagine I could be in third position when we reached remote service, especially as we hadn’t tested the car since Mexico. I was not pushing, I did not want to take risks but then we went off nearly half-way through Stage 7. Everything was going well and I am very disappointed this has happened but hopefully the team can work on the car tonight so that we are able to restart tomorrow. I would be able to use the next two days to try and learn the car some more, ready for our next rally.”