Solberg Secures Stage win for Stobart
Stobart M-Sport Ford's Henning Solberg claimed his first stage win in 18 months during the first full day of action at Rally Japan.
Solberg's last stage win was at Vodafone Rally de Portugal last year but the Norwegian driver finished SS5 fastest out of the 70 FIA World Rally Championship crews competing in Japan. Solberg's strong performance throughout the day has meant the 37-year-old is on track to snatch eighth position in the overall Drivers' Championship Standings from Munchi's Ford driver, Federico Villagra, who is currently only one point ahead.
Solberg and co-driver, Ilka Minor, reported that the deep ruts on the roads made handling their Ford Focus RS WRC difficult during the second pass but Solberg finished SS8 second-fastest -- just 0.8 seconds adrift of the fastest time produced by Mikko Hirvonen. At the end of the first day, the Norwegian was just 27.7 seconds off claiming sixth position from six-time World Rally Champion, Sebastien Loeb.
Solberg's team-mate, Matthew Wilson, had similar difficulties manipulating his Ford Focus RS WRC in the deep ruts. The 23-year-old driver reported that the roads were very cut up as a result of the soft ground and he struggled to find a good rhythm due to increasingly poor road conditions.
During SS4, Wilson and co-driver, Scott Martin, spun and stalled their Ford Focus RS WRC at a right hand junction which cost the Cumbrian pair approximately ten seconds. Wilson's confidence was knocked further when he struggled to find the best driving approach to deal with the deeper ruts that were formed during the afternoon pass.
However, the young Briton managed to pick up the pace during the day's closing Super Special Stages and finished SS9 fourth-fastest, 0.4 seconds ahead of Sebastien Ogier and 0.7 seconds quicker than Mikko Hirvonen. Wilson pulled into the end of day service after a difficult opening day of Rally Japan to finish eighth overall.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"I have never driven stages likes this in my life. The ruts in the road this afternoon were ridiculous -- the car felt bogged down throughout SS6, it was unbelievable and ten times worse than it was this morning. We were sitting so far down in the ruts and we just couldn't get any traction at all -- it felt like we were driving on rails. It's difficult to know the best way to drive in such big ruts -- it's a real art and it makes for very difficult driving. I'm pleased to have made it to the end of today but I'm just hoping the stages will be in better condition tomorrow so I can gain more confidence and push harder."
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"When I pulled into the first service today, I wanted to stiffen the car and gain more traction but I think I made a mistake changing the set-up for the afternoon. The ruts on the road were very deep and I felt like the car was floating -- I just couldn't find a good rhythm. The car is far too low and I pushed as hard as I could but the car just kept hitting the ground. But I am happy with how everything went overall -- it was good to get a stage win after nearly a year and a half. I thought I was going to get another win on SS8 but the low set-up of the car definitely slowed me down."