Stobart drivers deliver accomplished display in Argentina
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson both lie in excellent point-scoring positions going into the second day of Rally Argentina after producing an accomplished display of driving in difficult conditions on the 142.15kms of day one action.
Dusty roads and damage from loose rocks were issues for all of the teams today but the Stobart crews did well to avoid any major problems with Solberg finishing the day in fifth place overall and Wilson moving up to seventh.
After a steady start to the day that saw Solberg drop one place from his overnight position of fifth he found his pace on the short SS5 San Marcos Charbonnier test. The Norwegian and co-driver Cato Menkerud finished the 9.61km stage in second place just 2.3 seconds behind current world champion Sebastien Loeb; and went into the afternoon loop having moved back up to fifth place overall.
Despite the difficult, rocky conditions on the second pass of the stages in the afternoon, and problems with dust getting into his Ford Focus RS WRC, Solberg continued to push and maintained the pressure on the crews ahead of him, including his brother Petter. Third place on the second visit to San Marcos Charbonnier kept him well ahead of BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala going into day two.
Team mate Wilson immediately started to move up the leaderboard after taking ninth place on Thursday's Super Special stage. A trouble-free morning loop saw the young Briton and co-driver Scott Martin rise up to seventh in the overall standings. Wilson has shown reliable form throughout the championship this season and he continued to demonstrate that consistency on the morning loop.
A stall on SS6 Ascochinga La Cumbre at a hairpin bend lost him around 12 seconds but he recovered well to keep ahead of Federico Villagra, a man with the advantage of local knowledge, and the other young drivers in the pack Sebastien Ogier and Conrad Rautenbach.
Tyre wear became an issue for all of the drivers on the second pass of the stages in the afternoon as the road surface began to break up leaving large rocks in the road. Both Solberg and Wilson used the additional tyre change after SS6 to fit two new Pirelli Scorpion tyres which stood up well to the testing conditions. SS6 was generally considered to have been the toughest and most abrasive stage of the day and the Stobart drivers used their tyre allocation to good effect, ensuring they had the best of their Italian rubber for the rougher stages.
Tomorrow sees the rally head to the west of the Service Park at Villa Carlos Paz to tackle nine more stages totalling 141.64kms. These include some of Rally Argentina's most iconic speed tests including Mina Clavero and El Condor, the highest stage which takes the drivers to over 2000 metres above sea level.
The high altitude provides a stern test both of the engines and the drivers' fitness but could also present additional challenges such as snow on the road. Also on the list is Icho Cruz ' Carlos Paz, a very tricky, new stage with lots of crests and jumps to keep crew on their toes. Day two ends with a second Super Special stage back in the Cordoba Stadium.
Other rally news
One of the most fascinating days of the WRC season so far has seen the lead of the rally change hands no less than five times. After taking the lead on Thursday's Super Special stage Sebastien Loeb dropped down the field this morning and finished day one trailing his team mate Dani Sordo, and Mikko Hirvonen in the Ford Focus RS WRC. Petter Solberg is right on the pace of the leaders lying just 2.6 seconds behind Loeb and could pose a threat to the top three tomorrow. Meanwhile Argentina's Federico Villagra is keeping the local fans happy lying in eighth place going into
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"We have had a good run today and are still driving to a comfortable but improving pace. I just slowed down too much on the last stage; it was very rough and I just didn't know how fast to push. I concentrated today on having a good, clean run. We knew the second pass was going to be rough and it really was; the last three downhill kilometres of stage seven were incredible, lots of rocks on the road. I'm happy with how things are going, we are in a strong position again for tomorrow and it certainly will be a tough day; the stages at El Condor and Mina Clavero are uniquely challenging and this year will be no different. The plan is again to keep the pace going and stay out of trouble."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"It's been an up and down day and we seemed to be going faster on the fast, flowing stages but finding it harder on the twisty, technical stages. The car feels good and we made some small
changes at service which have helped, the only problem has been a lot of dust coming inside the car which is not very nice when you are trying to concentrate. We were pushing hard today and I'm
looking forward to the first stage tomorrow; its fast and that will suit us best. I'm still working to try and get a better feeling with the car on the slower sections so hopefully that will improve tomorrow."
Stobart VK M-Sport team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"This has been the roughest Rally Argentina we have seen for a few years and both Henning and
Matthew are aware of the conditions and the fact that there will be some attrition. They're looking after the cars while still maintaining points positions in the top-eight so everything is going according to plan. Henning has done well to set some strong times especially with a fierce battle for the lead that has changed so many times during the day. Tomorrow will bring its own challenges but the Stobart drivers are ready to face up to them."