Super Solberg secures points for Stobart in Finland After leading this weekend's Neste Oil Rally Finland, in its early stages, the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team have had another exceptional rally with two crews finishing in the top-ten...
Super Solberg secures points for Stobart in Finland
After leading this weekend's Neste Oil Rally Finland, in its early stages, the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team have had another exceptional rally with two crews finishing in the top-ten on this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
At the end of stage 2 it was none other than Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila who were leading their home event, to the delight of the heaving local spectator contingent. Unfortunately for the 22-year-old the dream was not to be when a small rock unsettled his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 throwing it into a bank and breaking the rear right wishbone which resulted in minor rollcage damage and his retirement from the event.
It was however a very successful event for team-mates Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr who both finished the rally with top-ten placings. Wilson finished a well deserved tenth while Solberg now moves to equal fourth in the FIA WRC Drivers' Championship with his strong fifth placed finish.
Even with Latvala unable to score points, Solberg's result still leaves the Stobart team right in the race for a podium spot in the Manufacturers' Championship lying just three points behind third placed Subaru.
As the event progressed weather conditions went from lousy to luscious with crews driving over the finish ramp under clear blue skies and temperatures of 26 degrees. Pacenotes proved to be key here with many crews coming unstuck over the extremely quick stages; of the 25 WRC entrants 15 managed to finish the rally.
Rally HQ was based in Jyvaskyla with stages running in every direction from the city over some of the most legendary gravel roads in rallying history. Seventeen different stage venues were used over a hard gravel surface, which in places offered maximum grip and in others slippery patches where a loose gravel coating was present.
The 360 kilometres of competitive route offered some amazingly fast average speeds, the highest being an incredible 132.32kph set by BP Ford's Marcus Gronholm on the 8.7 kilometre Urria test. This year's event also saw the classic Ouninpohja stage back at its full splendour as spectators came in their hundreds of thousands to view some of the most intense rallying on tour.
Solberg began his 2007 Finnish campaign in a reserved manner finishing leg 1 in a commendable seventh but complaining his Focus RS was not set up exactly to his liking. With some overnight changes, and then again with his suspension at midday service on Saturday, the Norwegian was back in a big way setting six consecutive top-five stage times to finish leg 2 in fifth position overall.
Managing to hold his position over the final three stages on Sunday, Solberg was extremely pleased to have achieved his top-five goal and even more so with his leap to fourth in the drivers' championship.
British driver Wilson, too, began his rally slightly aloof having trouble finding his rhythm on the opening leg which resulted in a couple of small spins and stalls over the course of the day losing him valuable seconds. He then had a big moment on stage 18 which promoted the 20-year-old to make some overnight setup changes which offered immediate results as he set the fourth fastest stage time on the opening test of leg 3.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"It has been a good rally and fantastic to score good driver points and move up some places in the championship. We didn't start off very fast but built up the speed over the weekend. This was the plan as we hadn't driven the car for two months and it is very easy to make a mistake here on the fast roads. Saturday was my best day as the car felt good and I had the confidence to push on, the feeling was fantastic and I was able to set some fast times consistently and comfortably. This rally has helped my feeling with the car for New Zealand and I know I will be able to push hard. My car was great here and worked well, we had no major problems at all."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It's brilliant to finish inside the top-ten in this tough and specialised event. Friday and Sunday were pretty good days and it was important to finish on a high with a fourth fastest time on one of the final stages. The stage started off well and everything felt good so we kept pushing. The cars are made to be driven hard and react better when you do so. It just shows that I can put in a good time when needed and do it comfortably; now I need to get to the point where I can do this on all the stages. I made some small mistakes on Saturday and it was a difficult day as we were running at the front of the field and had to cope with the loose gravel on the stages. Things are feeling much better now with the car and my pacenotes and I'm really looking forward to the next gravel event in New Zealand."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
"What can I say, it hasn't been my day. The morning was good though and the mid afternoon stages were going ok. We were coming around a long, long left-hand corner and in the middle of the road I hit a small stone which hit the sump and unsettled the car and we ended up with the rear of the car in the ditch and then hit a bank which broke the rear wheel. It's been a massive high from leading this morning and also a big low after retiring from the first day on my home event. I'm totally disappointed with my accident today, I can't believe it's happened after such a good start to the rally."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"I am really pleased with Matthew's result, he has shown great composure to get to the end of this difficult rally without making any stupid mistakes. He also showed a great turn of speed on one of the final stages and his confidence with the car is increasing with each event. Henning has continued to make great progress and he drove a very sensible and controlled rally. He punched in some impressive times and didn't put a foot wrong all weekend. It was hugely encouraging to see Jari-Matti leading on the first day but I was disappointed with his mistake; he just needs to concentrate and focus for the next rally."