Wilson flies, Latvala dominates, as Stobart ends season in style
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr have stepped up a gear on their home event by finishing sixth overall on this final round of the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship, Wales Rally GB. Britain's only fulltime WRC driver drove faultlessly to finish as the top placed Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team member.
Another record has been set in the Stobart books with Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila winning an incredible ten stages out of a possible 17. This included a run of six on Saturday, including every forest stage, followed by all four stages today. This is the first time a Stobart car has won all stages in a leg.
Unfortunately retirement on day 1 for both Latvala and team-mates Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud, under similar circumstances, saw the end of a dream finish for the Stobart team who came into the event with the chance to take third in the manufacturers' championship. Throughout the year the Stobart team has been exchanging blows with the works Subaru team in what has been one of the best performances by a privateer outfit in recent years.
True to its reputation, Rally GB dished up everything to competitors as they tackled one of the trickiest events of the year. If visibility wasn't impeded through fog or darkness it was by ferocious weather which was unpredictably wild throughout the event.
Saturday night was a treat for sports fans alike as the best-of-the-best launched the most advanced rally machinery though the air and into the world class Millennium Stadium to entertain over 26,000 fans who made their way to Cardiff for the final super special of 2007.
Wilson's efforts on this event have somewhat silenced his critics with a genuine display of raw speed and consistency. His stage positions and seconds-per-kilometre comparisons against the top WRC drivers have been steadily improving over the last three events. Apart from a small slide off the road on the last day in a slow, slippery section the 20-year-old has made no big mistakes; his only concern for the pacenotes which at times were perhaps a bit too ambitious in the slower corners.
The Cumbrian lad was pushed all the way for his great result by manufacturer driver Chris Atkinson but was able to hold off the Australian to take the battle by just under one minute by rally end. The position has catapulted Wilson up the driver standings to a well deserved eleventh outright.
Latvala has come a long way since Monte Carlo back in January this year and his efforts this weekend have seen him more than double his WRC career stage-win tally. Unfortunately for the Finn, harsh conditions caused a fault on his wipers forcing his retirement from the last test of leg 1. With the wipers unable to cope with the vast amounts of rain bucketing down, Latvala went off early in the stage due to poor visibility.
The final round for 2007 was also not the fairytale end Solberg was hoping for when he too was forced to retire on the final stage of leg 1 after losing a large amount of time on the penultimate Resolfen test. A broken heater matrix, caused by the demanding conditions, resulted in the incorrect functioning of his blower. The windscreen on his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 became dangerously fogged up and he was unable to continue safely. The Norwegian still managed some impressive stage times over the event and will be looking forward to hitting the stages again next month as the 2008 WRC season kicks off in Monte Carlo.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
"The conditions on this rally were extremely difficult but I was concentrating hard and am very pleased to get so many fastest times. It was very exciting going to the first stage this morning in darkness and heavy rain, we just didn't know what to expect. I had a really comfortable pace throughout the whole rally and was pushing around 95 percent all the way. I found a good rhythm and just kept at it. Yes it's a shame about our problems on Friday but I have shown a very consistent performance and that is important for me. I wanted to improve my driving and I am happy with what I have achieved. It's a shame we couldn't have topped off a great year by claiming third in the manufacturers' championship."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"We had a really great morning and it was important to get in front of Chris [Atkinson] today. Weather conditions made things difficult this morning but there was actually quite a lot of grip on the stages. We found some good rhythm today and good pace on all four stages. I couldn't have asked for anything more, all three days have been great and on the last stage today I had the luxury of backing off a bit as we had a comfortable gap ahead of Chris. For the whole event I tried to keep it neat and tidy and just drive to my pacenotes. For me it has been a great personal performance as all the top drivers are still in the event and we have claimed this result totally on merit."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"This has been a difficult event for me as we didn't start off very well. After the problems on leg 1, there wasn't much we could really do than try and complete all the stages, make some changes to the car and gather important information for the future. The feeling today was a good improvement and this is promising as we head into a new season. I was really just concentrating on making my driving better and it was working towards the final stages. So, for me, not the best of events but we did manage to make some good progress from this difficult situation."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"It wasn't the dream result we were all hoping for but what a performance by Jari-Matti; fastest on all gravel stages yesterday and today is a great achievement. I would say this is Matthew's best ever performance on a world championship event, he has really upped the pace over the last three events and it is a very encouraging end to the year for him. Henning didn't get off to the best of starts but he has put in a steady drive and gained more experience of the rally in what were extremely difficult driving conditions."
Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
"The season has been fantastic and I don't think anyone would have expected us to challenge Subaru at the start of the year. It's great to see the young drivers developing during the year and especially Jari-Matti, who has improved a lot on both tarmac and gravel. This result is very encouraging as we head into next year; our pace is up there now and we just need to continue to push hard."