Stobart's super season in review
What a truly remarkable year it has been for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship. In contrast to last season the team has come along in a way most would take years to achieve, thanks to an amazing team and three talented crews; Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila, Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr.
This year the team has scored points on every single event as they continually wrote new records for the Stobart history books. Just three events in, Solberg kicked off proceedings on his home event in Norway by being the first ever Stobart driver to step onto a WRC podium; he re-lived the feat once more in Japan on his first outing to the east Asian isle. Rally Norway was also the highest single-event points haul for the team when Latvala came in fifth to make it ten manufacturer points for the event.
Things continued on an upward path as Latvala stunned crowds to give the Stobart team another first; it's first ever rally lead, as he came into Service A of Rally d'Italia Sardinia in top spot. The Finnish sensation then managed the feat twice more in Japan, where he led after leg 1, and on his home event of Rally Finland. While the youngster didn't quite manage a win this year, Christmas came early in rather unfamiliar territory when he bagged his first ever podium at Rally Ireland. This act also saw the first Stobart liveried car on the podium in WRC history.
While not scoring points for the team this year, Wilson began with a punch; securing his first driver's point, after just three events, in Mexico. But the best was yet to come. After a string of top-ten finishes, just outside the points, the 20-year-old turned it on for the final three events of 2007 as he came home in style. He scored points on all three events with an incredible fourth place result in Japan which saw him better his previous best finish by a mammoth four spots. A seventh in Ireland was another two points but it was Wilson's home event, Wales Rally GB, which really showcased his improvement over the course of the year as he took on works Subaru driver Chris Atkinson and won the battle for sixth.
A few personal milestones also occurred this year beginning with Solberg and co-driver Menkerud who both reached 50 WRC starts in Rally Germany. Next was Latvala who, at the tender age of 22, also clocked the half century on Rally Japan.
The penultimate round of the 2007 WRC season, Rally Ireland, saw the Stobart team move back into third place on the manufacturers' table after a year long tussle with Subaru's factory outfit where the position swapped hands on numerous occasions. Things were looking ominous for the Japanese manufacturer as the Stobart squad headed to the final WRC round with a one point advantage in the championship. Unfortunately the Stobart team was pipped to the post by the slightest of margins despite the fact Latvala had won an astonishing ten of the 17 special stages run; but retirement on day 1 saw him finish the event tenth.
All-in-all it has been a top year for the Stobart stars. All three drivers have achieved their best overall result in a full season in the World Rally Championship for drivers while the team has achieved its best result in the manufacturers' category. Solberg led the way form the beginning to finish the year sixth in the drivers' championship while Latvala ended the season in a well earned eighth. Wilson's final flurry of points catapulted him from 14th to eleventh for his best championship finish in two full years of competition.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
"At the start of this year I set myself some goals and have achieved more than I thought I would so it really has been quite fantastic. Prior to this year my best result was fourth place so for 2007 I wanted to do better and in Ireland we achieved this by finishing on the podium next to Sebastien [Loeb] and Dani [Sordo]. For me there have been five things that really stand out. My first ever fastest stage time came in Norway then in Sardinia I lead a WRC event for the first time. The third was in Germany when I got my first tarmac point; this meant a lot as I have had lots of accidents on tarmac in the past. Fourth was the podium in Ireland and the fifth best moment this year was Rally GB and winning more than half the stages in the rally, this is something I didn't think I could achieve so early in my career. This year the car has been working extremely well with no major mechanical problems apart from in Sweden where the cold temperatures played a big part in what happened to the car on that event."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"It has been a great year for me and for the Stobart team. I have been competing on world championship rallies for almost ten years now but this year has been the biggest learning step for me. I competed on my first proper tarmac event in Germany and learnt a lot from this rally and by the time we got to Rally Ireland the speed on tarmac was starting to get a lot better; although I still have much more to learn on the surface. Getting onto the podium in Norway was one of my greatest moments in rallying. To come third on my home event with all my family and friends there was amazing and then to go to Japan for the first time ever and finish third there too was a great feeling. It has been an exciting year with the Stobart team and has been a great effort by all to be fighting all the way with Subaru for third manufacturer."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It's been a great year for us especially towards the second half of the season. Things started off pretty slowly as we began with three difficult rallies, two of which were completely new with Monte Carlo being moved to a different route and Norway running for the first time. Of all the events, Japan and GB were certainly the best for us. To finish fourth in Japan was awesome but GB was probably good, if not better, because we achieved the result from speed rather than people falling off and finished ahead of some really quick guys. We have had some good speed on other rallies too but just not quite the desired result; but the second half of the year and particularly in the middle we had a solid run of top-ten results which was very promising. For the team to be so close to Subaru this year and just miss out on third on the last event was a great effort and a real boost to the team this year."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"This season has seen a big step up in performance from last year and the team can be rightly proud of the job they have done. It has been one of the strongest performances in the WRC by a private team and we have created a great platform to build upon for next year. For a private team to be setting fastest times, leading events and grabbing podium finishes is a fantastic achievement. Andrew Tinkler must be congratulated because Stobart have played a massive part in Jari-Matti's development to the point where he has now moved up to the BP-Ford team. They must be commended for supporting young drivers in the WRC and for playing a major role in the advancement of Jari-Matti and Matthew's careers."
Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
"What a great end to a superb season! I don't think anyone would have expected us to be able to challenge Subaru in the manufacturers' race but it just shows what a good job the crews have done this year. It has been fantastic for Stobart to be involved with our drivers and actually see how they have developed throughout the season. This is especially true for Jari-Matti, he has improved so much this year with both performance and consistency on gravel and tarmac. It is very encouraging going into next year as we know we are up there now with the other main teams and we just need to continue at that level for 2008. I have also been very impressed with Matthew and the benefit of his five year plan is starting to show. His last three events have been fantastic and hopefully he can continue this in 2008. Malcolm [Wilson] and M-Sport have done a great job all year in managing the team and the Focus has proved to be ultra-reliable."