Stobart’s Solberg Returns To WRC With Sterling Performance
Henning Solberg showed a return to form for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team with his fifth place finish at the Acropolis Rally of Greece this weekend. Team-mate Matthew Wilson finished one place behind Solberg piloting the team’s other Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Solberg’s result also marks a continuation in the team’s string of top five finishes this season and successfully marks their seventh consecutive top five result in this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.
Four drivers were entered under the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team banner in Greece this weekend but it was Russia’s Evgeny Novikov who set the pace for the team after posting a third-quickest time on the rally’s opening 23.60 km stage. However, the flying Russian’s mission was abruptly ended when he suffered suspension damage on Stage 2 which led to an early retirement.
The unforgiving roads also took their toll on M-Sport Stobart’s Mads Østberg who had a small off on Stage 4 and damaged the front of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC which also led to his retirement.
As temperatures soared to a staggering 35 degrees Celsius, the remaining crews of Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson led the way for the squad and finished the day in the team’s Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars in fifth and sixth place respectively.
Saturday’s stages situated in the heart of the Peloponnese peninsula were reported by the WRC drivers as the roughest and most challenging of the rally. Solberg suffered problems with the brakes on his Ford Fiesta RS WRC which cost the leading M-Sport Stobart crew time loss on the morning pass. However, the pair had a clear afternoon and consolidated their position inside the top five at the end of the second day.
Britain’s Matthew Wilson was hampered by an intermittent misfire during Saturday’s stages but he and co-driver Scott Martin successfully maintained their lead over former Formula One Champion Kimi Räikkönen and were lying sixth going into the final day. Wilson’s team changed the fuel injectors on the 24-year-old’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC at the end of day service in an attempt to fix the misfire.
The notoriously quick Evgeny Novikov returned to Saturday’s rally to set a series of blisteringly quick times but fell foul to the rock-strewn stages when he suffered a rear-left puncture at the end of Stage 9. On the road section to Stage 12, Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet’s mission was halted when the pair were forced to retire due to a broken alternator belt.
Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson returned to Saturday’s rally on top form when they posted a third-quickest time on the day’s opening 17.41 km stage. The pair drove faultlessly throughout the rest of the day, successfully jumping up the overall WRC leaderboard from 25th to 14th at the end of Day 2.
Sunday’s stages saw Russia’s flying Novikov prove his ability behind the wheel of a World Rally Car as he set three top five stage times including a third-fastest time on Stage 15. Wilson suffered from a lack of engine power on the day’s penultimate stages but still pulled into the final service sixth overall.
Solberg and Østberg had a relatively trouble-free day and the squad’s Scandinavian crews pulled into the final service in sixth and 12th place respectively.
Henning Solberg said:
“I am very happy with my position. I just hoped to come back today and drive to the finish with no problems and that has been the case so that is good. We have had our share of bad luck at times, mostly with the brakes yesterday but the car worked very well on Friday and for today. I’ve also been awarded the Spirit of the Rally award which I’m very pleased about. It just feels great to be back in the WRC and we hope to come back even stronger for the second half of the year. I will try my best in Finland and push for a good result to see what we can do, that is all I hope for.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“It’s been a long, tough rally so to finish in sixth is a result I am happy with. We liked the stages today – we wanted to try and push for some good times but we didn’t want to do anything stupid and lose our position. We knew the Power Stage really well so we were looking for a good time but we lost all the power at the start of the test which was a bit frustrating. We were so close to scoring a point in the Power Stage at Rally Argentina so I really thought we might be able to push for a good result there but then we had our problem. For sure, it’s positive to finish sixth – we mostly kept out of trouble and I think that’s the most important factor in a rally as tough as this. There’s been a few niggling problems – most of them we’ve been able to sort but there was just a couple of smaller issues which I hope will be sorted for next time.”
Mads Østberg said:
“It’s been a very up and down weekend for us with a few small issues. I’ve certainly learned a lot but it’s not the result that I had hoped for. I was disappointed after our problems on Stage 4 on Friday but that is how it goes sometimes. Yesterday went better for us, I was feeling more confident with the car and I managed to set some good times but then we had to take this morning very carefully as the steering rack was loose. I’ve got a rally in Estonia in the middle of July which I will hopefully contest in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC so it will be a good test before Finland at the end of next month. I’d really like to push the top guys some more and finish with another top five result.”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“We have been going flat out today – really pushing to the maximum. I’ve really enjoyed this weekend - when it’s been going well, I can get some good times. It’s just disappointing that we had to retire on Friday as I think we could have got a good result with some of our stages times we’ve had. It’s gone very well with Denis [Giraudet] as my co-driver this weekend – he’s very good but at my next rally in Finland I will have Stephane back with me in the car. I hope to have no problems there and to go flat out to finish with a strong position.”
M-Sport Stobart Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s been a rally of mixed fortunes for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team. It’s great to see Henning back with us after he missed Argentina and he’s made a fantastic comeback after a difficult start to the season. He thoroughly deserves both his top five result and his Spirit of the Rally Award due to his dedication and hard work over the past few weeks. Matthew has also had a strong weekend, he’s responded well to the difficult road conditions and even though he had some small problems with the misfire yesterday, he still managed to set some fast times and to finish with points for the team. Mads had an unlucky start on Friday but he had a good day yesterday which he can take a lot of positives from. I have no doubt that Finland will be a strong event for him so we look forward to seeing how he gets on when the WRC returns after the summer break. As for Novikov, there is no doubt that he is one of the fastest drivers in the WRC – he is capable of setting blisteringly quick times but he was unlucky this weekend after retiring on Friday and Saturday. With a little more experience, I am sure that he is capable of regularly chasing the WRC front-runners.”
-source: stobart m-sport ford