Rapid Rossi helps Stobart celebrate a Fantastic fifty
The final round of the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship has come to a close as has another fantastic year for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team at this weekend's Wales Rally GB.
Leading the way for the side were Francois Duval/Denis Giraudet who finished sixth overall. The event for Duval started off in cracking fashion as he completed the opening stage as the second fastest driver. Unfortunately a big moment, resulting in a small off, on stage 3 knocked his confidence slightly but the Belgian was able to keep his composure for the remaining stages to finish inside the top-six.
Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin flew in as the next best placed Stobart crew in ninth on their home event. Treacherous weather conditions on the opening day slightly affected the 21-year-old's confidence but fortunately he was able to regain it as conditions eased off and he began setting some impressive stage times on Saturday and Sunday.
Completing a hat-trick are Barry Clark/Paul Nagle who have made it three top-ten finishes on three different surfaces by finishing Wales Rally GB in 10th overall. Like fellow competitors the Scotsman found the conditions quite tricky with a few small incidents but luckily he was able to get to the finish and with another impressive result to his name.
The man of the hour, Valentino Rossi, and his co-driver Carlo Cassina come in as the next best placed Stobart-backed crew in 12th after finishing day 1 in 24th position. Rossi stuck to his plan taking things step-by-step and by the final day was setting some sensational stage times despite being a MotoGP world champion by trade. The atmosphere and excitement he brought to the event was incredible and a real buzz for the Stobart camp which was out in full force for the home event.
Unfortunately for Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud it just hasn't been their rally, or indeed year, after retiring on the penultimate stage with broken suspension after colliding with some large rocks. Solberg was running sixth at the time and in a close battle with fifth placed PG Andersson but unfortunately for the Norwegian a top-five result was not to be.
In all it has been a fabulous end to Stobart's 50th WRC event which sees three cars in the top-10 and a phenomenal amount of new fans thanks to the presence of the two-wheeled champion. The team has finished the year fourth in the Manufacturer Championship with four of its star drivers inside the top-10 in the Drivers' Championship standings.
Day 1 saw conditions like no other as the itinerary had to be shortened to just 50 competitive kilometres due to dangerous ice and fog. Fortunately for competitors Pirelli's Scorpion gravel tyre held strong but with the one-tyre rule crews found things tough going on the deceptive, icy sections.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Driver Francois Duval said:
"We found this rally very hard and it was difficult to really get into a rhythm. We had a few spins on the first day and after the accident in Japan I didn't have confidence to be fully committed in the fast sections. The important thing for me here was to get to the end of the rally with no problems and pick up points for the team. The rally was difficult and finding grip was not easy, sometimes the road had ice and sometimes it was just wet but it always looked the same and was very hard to judge."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It has been very tough from start to finish and not very nice conditions to drive in. The final day was definitely the best for us and we enjoyed it the most. The stages were so mixed and I don't have any experience of driving on frozen ice and gravel so it was hard to get the confidence to push harder. But we did the best we could, didn't make any mistakes and got the car to the finish inside the top-10. At the end of the day it's more experience for me on conditions I've never driven on before so with that in mind it's been a positive end to the season."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Driver Valentino Rossi said:
"I'm very happy today, firstly to finish the rally and secondly to set some very good times on the four stages today. The car was fantastic and I was finding it easy to drive when we got a precise setting. My approach here was to take the race step-by-step and try not to make any mistakes and this worked well. I think this rally was very difficult and finishing it makes me very happy indeed. The Focus was really nice to drive and it's been fantastic working with the Stobart team; they are all very friendly and hopefully we will get a chance to work again together."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Driver Henning Solberg said:
"Obviously I'm disappointed we didn't finish the event but I had to have a go to try and catch Andersson. We ran slightly wide and over some rocks which damaged the rear suspension so it wasn't really the best way to end off the year. This was a difficult event for everyone and we started off slowly here as the conditions were so tricky and finding grip on the frozen gravel was hard. We did find a really good setting with the diff on Saturday and after that we set some good times so I was pleased with that."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Driver Barry Clark said:
"It's not every day you get to drive a world rally car on your home event so I really enjoyed the experience. We have had a great year, three rallies and three top-10 finishes on three different surfaces. You have to remember I'm competing against the best drivers in the world who do this for a living so I think we have proven a point this year. I would just like to thank Malcolm Wilson for all his help in making this possible and hopefully I will get a chance again next year as there is definitely more to come."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"What a fantastic weekend for the team with all three Stobart liveried cars finishing with no problems. There has been so much excitement with Valentino in the team and his presence here has been a massive boost to the squad; his times today have been remarkable. All the crews have driven well in what proved to be the most difficult event in the championship and the team have collected more manufacturer points on their 50th WRC rally."
Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
"It's been another fantastic result for the Stobart team and a great way to finish off the year. Valentino's presence has really raised our game and he has been an inspiration to everyone in the team. Matt has driven well in terrible conditions and Francois has claimed more points for the team once again; I believe there has been only one event this year we haven't scored points. So, yes, a great way to end the year for Stobart."