Stobart's Solberg remains strong in Sapporo
Stobart M-Sport Ford's Matthew Wilson endured a tough morning after his Ford Focus RS WRC got wedged in a ditch, forcing the 23-year-old driver to retire from the second day of Rally Japan.
Less than 1km before the end of SS11 Wilson took a corner wide and spun his Ford Focus RS WRC, dropping the front two wheels into a ditch. The car suffered no major damage, but the crew were unable to push the car back onto the road and their day two challenge was over. Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin will return tomorrow, but today marked the end of a clear run as it was the first time since Rally Mexico in March the Cumbrian duo have been forced to SupeRally.
After finishing fourth at 2007's Rally Japan Wilson had high hopes of equalling or beating his previous best result, but his exit from the 17.68 Nikara Short 1 stage has ended the 23-year-old driver's chances of finishing inside the top five.
Wilson's incident left Stobart M-Sport Ford team-mates Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor the only remaining Stobart crew on the road. After a successful opening day Solberg was on pace with the WRC front-runners, but at the start of SS13 his Ford Focus RS WRC hit a big rock. The Norwegian driver felt a vibration and initially thought he had a puncture so slowed down. Solberg pulled into the first service seventh overall, 54.8 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb who held onto sixth position.
During the first service Solberg reported the car was veering to the left and some small changes were made to the set-up at the midday service before he tackled the repeat afternoon loop. The 37-year-old driver went onto finish SS16 fifth-fastest, quicker than both Sebastien Ogier and Mikko Hirvonen.
The Stobart stalwart encountered no further problems on the day's closing Super Special Stages and remained seventh as he pulled into the final service. Solberg's strong performance at Rally Japan so far means he remains on track to snatch eighth position in the Drivers' Championship Standings from Munchi's Ford driver, Federico Villagra.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"I'm very, very frustrated -- there's not a scratch on the car but we just couldn't get it back onto the road. When the front end went into the ditch I thought we could just reverse and lose ten seconds at most, but we weren't going anywhere. I then tried locking the diffs but it just seemed to make a bigger hole and more stuck. There were three photographers close by and they helped us try to lift the car but it was properly wedged in at this stage. The only way we could have got the car back on the road was to roll the car but there wasn't enough people to help and it would have been too big a risk. I ran to the stage end to see if we could get anybody else to help but there was nobody there. If this had been an event like Finland lots of spectators would have been there and we'd have been back on the road in under a minute. It's such a shame and I'm really disappointed."
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"For sure, today has been a good day. I hit a rock on SS13 and heard a big vibration -- I thought I had a puncture so I slowed down but I shouldn't have as everything was fine. I also felt like the car kept pulling to the left this morning but this was sorted after service. It seems like I have the same problems that I was having in New Zealand -- I couldn't explain it then and I still can't explain it now! I continued to struggle in the ruts today and also in the narrow sections but overall it was a good day. I lost approximately ten seconds in deep mud on the second last stage of the afternoon. I'm disappointed that Matt [Wilson] had to retire but I'm happy with my pace this weekend and will continue to push tomorrow."