Stobart Stay Steady during Iberian Adventure
Stobart M-Sport Ford's Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin and Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor remain steady on day two of Rally de Portugal and are still on track for another healthy points haul at the end of the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
Henning Solberg steadily improved his times in his Ford Focus RS WRC during the opening day of Rally de Portugal and finished Friday's closing stage on a high, producing a third-fastest stage time. The Norwegian finished the day in a comfortable seventh position, just 17.9 seconds off claiming sixth position and 33.9 seconds ahead of team-mate Wilson who lay in eight position overall.
Temperatures topped 28 degrees Celsius in the Algarve for the second full day of action and made for very dry and fast hard-packed road surfaces. During the morning regroup, it was noted that tyre preservation would be an extremely important factor and that both crews would continue to run two extra spare tyres to help combat inevitable difficulties with tyre-wear throughout the day.
Today's stages were the longest of the event and comprised of six gravel tests covering 135.10km based north of the service park. Stages were very narrow, with several blind crests and included a repeat loop of the rally's longest stage, 26.20lm Almodovar (SS8 and SS11), which kicked off the morning and afternoon loop.
Almodovar consisted of a challenging mix of sweeping roads mixed with slower, more technical sections. At 8km into the stage, there was a sequence of blind crests which finished with a tight climb during the last 5km. On this tough opening loop, Wilson encountered braking problems half way through the test and reported he was struggling with grip on the rear end of his Ford Focus RS WRC. Solberg also reported problems with his fuel pump but finished the test 2.8 seconds faster than his Cumbrian team-mate.
SS9, Vascao 1, was another mixed test with lots of crests, jumps and twisty sections. The road surface was covered with rough gravel and bedrock with an extremely fast downhill section which was hard on the durable Pirelli Scorpion control tyre. Solberg finished this test seventh-fastest and Wilson, who still reported braking issues, finished eighth equal and 4.6 seconds ahead of former Formula One driver, Kimi Raikkonen.
A 16.12km test, Bras de Alportel 2, concluded the end of the morning and afternoon loop and this was the only stage of the day that remained entirely unchanged from 2009. The stage consisted of a very technical wooded section at the end and Solberg reported problems with dust entering his Ford Focus RS WRC during this latter part of the stage.
As the Stobart crews pulled into the midday service, both teams had taken advantage of BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala crashing in SS9 and moved up into sixth and seventh position respectively. During the service, the rear roll bar was replaced on Wilson's car and Solberg's fuel pumps were changed. The service team's main priority was to maintain tyre tread to ensure the Cumbrian based squads could hold a firmer grip in the afternoon's stages.
During the afternoon, Wilson and Solberg remained steady and encountered no major difficulties when tackling the repeat afternoon loop. Solberg steadily improved his times, finishing SS11 fifth-fastest and pulling into the end of day service in a comfortable sixth position. The Norwegian is currently one minute and 42.9 seconds off claiming fifth position and lies one minute and 18.6 seconds ahead of team-mate, Wilson, who now occupies seventh position.
The final day of Rally de Portugal will feature four all-gravel stages, with the only difference to last year's route being on the Felizes 21.28km stage (SS14 and SS16) which has a new 3.11km finish. The rally will finish with another stage round the 2.03km tarmac stage round the Algarve Stadium.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"This morning was frustrating as I had some problems with my brakes but it's hard to explain exactly what was going wrong. It happened towards the end of the opening stage today and it was the same sort of problem that we experienced in Rally Jordan earlier this year. It was annoying to have to brake early as it meant I was running wide round the corners and going slower than I wanted to. I'm happy to have got to the end of the day but it will be hard to catch up on Henning tomorrow as he's quite far in front now."
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"It was a tough day and I have had problems with my fuel pressure this morning and during the second stage of the day my engine stopped. I am not sure why. It was very dusty during the stage on Ilka's side especially, we've been getting a lot of dust spilling into the car on her side. It wasn't too warm this morning so it wasn't a problem with heat inside the car but it did get hotter this afternoon. The water splash at the final stage of the day cost me some valuable time. I will continue to push tomorrow."