Østberg Holds Fifth As Sardinian Challenge Remains Tough
M-Sport Stobart’s Mads Østberg remains on track for his third top-five finish in this year’s FIA World Rally Championship after a polished performance on the second day of Rally Italia Sardegna.
Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson maintained their overall position in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC today, reporting only minor set-up issues over the repeat loop covering 146.06 km in the Sassari region of sun-drenched Sardinia.
Britain’s Matthew Wilson reported a better feeling in the team’s other Fiesta RS WRC today after brake and steering problems yesterday on Day 1. He and co-driver Scott Martin are sitting ninth overall, just 4.3 seconds behind Finnish driver Juho Hanninen in eighth place.
A broken steering arm and slow puncture dropped M-Sport Stobart driver PG Andersson out of podium contention on yesterday’s opening loop but the Swedish driver returned to flying form today.
Despite the extra weight incurred from running two spare tyres, Andersson and co-driver Emil Axelsson posted three top-five stage times including a third-fastest time on Stage 11. They pulled into service 20th overall and a clear repeat afternoon pass for the Scandinavian pairing meant the duo climbed the WRC leaderboard to finish the day 18th overall.
Evgeny Novikov returned to Rally Italia Sardegna this morning after a crash on yesterday’s penultimate stage as a result of a misheard pacenote. The M-Sport Stobart team worked hard last night to repair the Russian’s Fiesta RS WRC which had suffered extensive chassis damage.
The 20-year-old posted a fourth-fastest time on Stage 11 and a trouble-free afternoon followed for Novikov and co-driver Stephane Prevot as the pairing climbed the WRC leaderboard to finish the second day 15th overall.
Team-mates Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor had a troubled day yesterday after colliding with a bridge and causing damage to the rear-right damper. Further damage was caused to the car with a fire which was extinguished by the marshals at the stage finish and this was followed by engine problems in the afternoon.
The M-Sport Stobart team declared the damage to their Ford Fiesta RS WRC irreparable and regrettably Solberg was unable to return for today’s rally.
Mads Østberg said:
“I’m happy with how the rally is going so far, we still have a few small issues but nothing like we’ve had in the last couple of events. It’s just that these small problems are preventing us from having a perfect stage time and although we’ve had a couple of good times today, we’re finding it hard to keep up with the guys in front. We had problems with the car oversteering first thing so we went a bit softer on the rear which improved everything for the second. The grip is changing so much from stage to stage on this rally - it’s hard to find a good set-up which can work for all the conditions but I’m glad to still be here and fifth is a position I would be happy with.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“We seemed to be cured of most of the problems we had yesterday – the team worked really hard last night and there’s been a big improvement with the brakes. There’s something still not quite right, mostly with the brake bias but it’s nothing like as bad as it was yesterday. We were disappointed with the second stage this afternoon – I don’t know exactly what it was but it was tricky to find a good rhythm. It might have been something to do with the sand on top of the surface and we lost a lot of time. We still need to make a few adjustments at the service but there’ll be no major changes. Hopefully we can have a nice clean run tomorrow.”
PG Andersson said:
“We had a good road position today and everything has been going OK. We stalled the engine about half-way through the last stage but we’ve had no other problems. We wanted to put some fast stage times on the board and we hope this will help secure us more rallies for later in the season. It would be nice to win a stage this weekend but the top three are really on it but I’ll keep trying to see how it goes tomorrow. There has been a lot of blind crests on the stages today which has made it difficult trying to find a constant rhythm but the car has been going well. We just need to keep going and I want to treat tomorrow like a new day.”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“I didn’t want to push to the limit today but it has been good driving for fun. I want to try to increase my speed but I need to keep the car on the road. There was a lot of rocks on the road today – at least three or four very big ones on the second last stage. I was surprised we didn’t get a puncture but the Michelin tyres are very tough. The most important thing for me now is to get to the end of the rally and to learn as much as I can about the car. There’s no reason for me to push tomorrow or take any risks.”