STOBART'S RECORD-BREAKING ШSTBERG FINISHES SECOND IN SWEDEN
Mads Шstberg has made a fairytale debut for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team by finishing runner-up at a nail-bitingly close FIA World Rally Championship season-opener in Sweden this weekend.
The 23-year-old Norwegian driver shone from start to finish in the all-new Ford Fiesta RS WRC and led the snow-laden rally for nine out of 22 stages -- a remarkable achievement considering Шstberg had completed only one short test in the new car prior to Sweden.
At the end of the second day, three Fiesta RS World Rally Cars held the top five spots in the Rally Sweden leaderboard, and with only 15.8 seconds separating all five contenders, Sunday was expected to be an action-packed finale.
Шstberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson started the final day just 7.4 seconds behind rally leader, Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen.
Eager to catch their fellow Fiesta RS WRC driver, the young Norwegian showed an impressive show of speed which saw the gap between Hirvonen and Шstberg reduce to a slender 4.9 seconds. However, with the final stage at just 4.16 km long, the young driver decided that he did not want to risk pushing too hard and Hirvonen took the rally lead by 6.5 seconds.
Шstberg's previous best result on a WRC event was sixth at 2009's Rally Portugal and the talented driver has smashed two records for the M-Sport Stobart Ford team this weekend -- on Friday he was the first Stobart driver to lead a rally at the end of a full day and his second-place finish is the highest ever final result in the squad's six year history.
This is the ninth podium finish for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team since their inception into the WRC in 2006 - the last time the Cumbrian-based squad were on the podium was at 2009's Rally Poland when Henning Solberg finished third overall.
Team-mates Henning Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor got off to a flying start in Sweden as they set the fastest time on Thursday's shakedown. This was followed by two top-three fastest stage times on Friday and meant the M-Sport Stobart duo were fifth overall at the end of the first full day.
However, a power steering problem with the Norwegian's Fiesta RS WRC meant that Solberg was four minutes late out of Saturday morning's service. The M-Sport Stobart driver was hindered with more bad luck when he rolled 2 km into the day's opening stage, Lesjofors 1. Both Solberg and Minor escaped without injury but the roll cage was damaged upon impact so the pair were unable to return under SupeRally regulations for the final day of action.
Britain's Matthew Wilson reported steering problems on Friday morning but a change in set-up at the midday service noticeably improved the 24-year-old's times on the repeat afternoon pass. The young Cumbrian and his co-driver Scott Martin moved from 19th position at the end of the opening loop to 15th overall at the end of Day One.
A relatively trouble-free day on Saturday saw Matthew Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin move into tenth overall, 1.4 seconds from snatching ninth place from Patrik Sandell. The Briton continued to climb the WRC leaderboard on the final day and moved ahead of Fiesta RS WRC driver Khalid Al Qassimi to finish the rally ninth overall.
Mads Шstberg said:
"I could never have imagined to finish this rally in a podium position -- it feels very, very good! I was on the absolute limit today -- if I went any faster, I would have made a mistake and I did not want to risk the fantastic result that we already had. It has been a brilliant weekend and to have won the first full stage in the new Ford Fiesta RS WRC is a record nobody can ever take away from me. The car has been fantastic and it is of great credit to the car and to Jonas [Andersson] who have played such a big part in helping me to achieve my first WRC podium. At the start of today I was thinking that it would mean everything to me if I could walk away with a podium position. Even though I was so close to catching Mikko [Hirvonen], he was pushing too hard and there was not enough stages to be able to catch him up. I was up against the best drivers in the world this weekend so to finish second is a dream come true."
Matthew Wilson said:
"It's been a good weekend overall -- for sure, I am disappointed about the power steering problems that we had at the start but apart from that there's been no major dramas. The car set-up has been working very well today and we've been lucky as the conditions have been a better than I had imagined. We've really enjoyed it out on the stages today but it's just a shame that we lost so much time on Friday as we could have had a good battle with Kimi [Raikkonen]. We found a good rhythm this afternoon and I'm feeling very well prepared for Mexico, especially since it's on gravel which is our preferred surface. It's brilliant to hear that our new team-mate Mads has finished second, he has driven faultlessly this weekend and really deserves that spot on the podium."
M-Sport Stobart Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"This has been a dream start for both Ford and for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team. We are absolutely delighted that the Ford family have finished their debut event in the new Ford Fiesta RS WRC with a 1-2-3 on the podium - I couldn't have imagined a more perfect season-opener. Mads has made an incredible debut in our new car - he has driven remarkably well from start to finish. He has really impressed this weekend - I hope that we can expect to see more podium finishes from the young talented driver throughout the season. Solberg also showed an incredible pace over the weekend but it was unfortunate that he had to retire yesterday, especially after he set some very fast times on the opening day. Matthew has done very well to battle back from the time he lost on the opening day and I am certain he will produce a strong performance when he drives the Fiesta RS WRC on gravel in Mexico."
Director of Adapta Motorsport, Morten Шstberg:
"I would like to pinpoint three factors that I consider to be most important in Mads' second place in Sweden this weekend. Firstly, to Mads himself -- we always knew he would be fast as soon as he sat behind the wheel of a World Rally Car. I've thought this for a long time and this weekend's result has proved this to everyone. Secondly, the car has been fantastic -- we have been so happy with the set-up and it has run remarkably well. Finally, I would like to thank M-Sport and how well we have been received and accepted as a part of the team. It makes us proud to be part of the M-Sport Stobart Ford team this year and we are very much looking forward to the rest of the season."