Solberg and Stobart impress with best ever results in Norway
It's been a dream finish to the inaugural Rally Norway for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team. Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud have equalled their best ever finish in the WRC, taking third in their home event. This is the best result to date for the Stobart outfit and with Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila coming home in fifth it has been the most successful outing in the team's history.
In an incredible turn, the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team have moved from the bottom of the manufacturer table to third spot, surpassing OMV Kronos and Subaru's factory team. This is an amazing start to the year for a team who have once again shown they are not to be taken lightly as they continue to back-up the official BP-Ford team in the overall standings, keeping crucial points off rival manufacturers.
Unlike previous days, conditions suited drivers, with minimal snow falls on the less eventful final day of Rally Norway. The leg began with competitors tackling the glorious Mountain stage, a 24.36 kilometre climb up the mountainous regions east of Lillehammer. The final war was waged on the event's longest stage - the 44.28 kilometre Elverum test - a perfect battleground to finalise overall competitor standings.
Solberg has shown amazing form in the last two snow rallies getting on with the job despite the incredible amount of media and public commitments he has been subject to in his home event this week.
The 34-year-old has gained celebrity status in his native country, so much so, he was visited at final service today by Norway's Minister for Sport, Culture and Church, Trond Giske who was lending his support.
Solberg's immediate pace this morning moved him into the final podium position edging ahead of brother and fellow Norwegian star Petter Solberg. Through the four stages today he managed two second places and a top placing on stage 16, his first ever scratch time for the team.
Sitting on the start line of stage 18, the final test, Solberg was 16 seconds ahead of brother Petter until disaster struck when he stalled his Focus RS on the line, costing the Norwegian eight valuable seconds. Solberg pushed incredibly hard through the stage, enough to hold his podium position to the end, punching the air in celebration standing with brother Petter on the bonnet of his car.
Miikka Anttila celebrated his 50th WRC event as a co-driver on a high finishing fifth, as he and Latvala brought their Ford Focus RS WRC06 home as planned. If it weren't for a one and a half minute penalty in leg 1 the Finnish duo would have come home forth, making it an all-Ford top four.
The British crew of Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr used the day to get more mileage and learn about the conditions, after an off yesterday put them out of contention. For the 20-year-old Cumbrian, today was used as a test, trying some different tyres for the first time and experimenting with the car to learn as much as possible in the foreign conditions. He finished 27th overall.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"Because we retired early yesterday this was our first time in the mountain stage and I really enjoyed it. We tried the 8mm stud for the first time, it was different to start with because the car moved around on us a bit but it was ok. It would have been nice to get a result out of one of these rallies, we had some good stages here in Norway but it's just a shame I made that silly mistake yesterday. At least I have the miles up and it should be a bit easier when we come back next year, with these two rallies under the belt. I can't wait to see some sunshine in Mexico, it going to be sweet."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
"We had a good gap all day today. There was no battle for us to worry about so we just made our own speed and concentrated on finishing the rally. Everything was working so well with the car this weekend I am very impressed with it. It was unfortunate to have the problems on Friday but I am still very happy because we had two difficult rallies at the start of the year, so it is good to finish up in fifth and get some points for the team and myself."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"I had a stall at the start which lost me lots of seconds and I was worried it was going to be very close. I was driving as hard as I could on that last stage, I mean really pushing as hard as I ever have! The car was off the road more than it was on it! I am so happy with my result and in front of my home country in Norway it just feels amazing. It was something special to battle with Petter, he is a great driver and I know he was going flat out also. We have had a good rally, really trying our best the whole way through and it has paid off to push for the podium today. I am so happy with my result."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"What a fantastic result for the team, it's really amazing! Henning was under a bit of pressure on Friday with this being his home event, but he started to relax on leg 2 and his times really improved; and to actually pass Petter on the final day was outstanding, a fantastic achievement. Jari also showed was he is made of, without his technical problems on the first day he would have also been challenging for a podium. It's a great day for Ford and a great day for the Stobart team."