Fourth Place For Britain’S Wilson At Rally Australia
M-Sport Stobart Ford’s Matthew Wilson has matched his best ever result in the FIA World Rally Championship after finishing fourth at Rally Australia this weekend. It marks the British driver’s best result with current co-driver Scott Martin.
Wilson finished fifth at both Vodafone Rally de Portugal and Jordan Rally in the Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car earlier this year but the Cumbrian driver has been unable to match his fourth place finish from 2007’s Rally Japan until now.
The beautiful coastal resort of Coffs Harbour played host to this year’s Rally Australia but heavy rainfall rendered Friday’s stages virtually undriveable with its slippery clay-base surfaces. The road conditions caught out some of the world’s best WRC drivers including seven-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb who was forced to retire after going off the road.
Evgeny Novikov was on flying form during Friday’s treacherously slippery stages. The Russian driver - who celebrates his 21st birthday later this month - proved his ability to match the pace of the WRC front-runners by setting the second fastest time on Stage 6, moving him up to fourth place.
Stage 7, however, proved troublesome for Novikov who was forced to retire after hitting a rock 2 km into the stage which broke his car’s left steering arm.
Henning Solberg took advantage of his M-Sport Stobart team-mate’s misfortune and the Norwegian driver was elevated to fourth. Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor finished the day in style by setting a third fastest time in their Ford Fiesta RS WRC on the evening’s closing Super Special Stage.
Wilson reported that Friday’s road conditions were some of the most difficult he had encountered but the 24-year-old took the challenge in his stride and delivered five top five stage times throughout the day. The English driver was fifth going into the second day.
The final two days of Rally Australia were greeted with perfect blue skies and glorious sunshine and Wilson had a clear run through Saturday’s opening loop despite a small handling problem. Some differential adjustments were made at the midday service and the British driver reported a better set-up for the afternoon pass.
Solberg had a strong start on Saturday morning and posted a string of top five stage times. However, 18 km into Stage 15 Solberg’s hopes for a season best was abruptly ended as the Norwegian driver was forced to retire with an electrical problem.
Novikov returned under SupeRally regulations for Saturday’s stages and had a relatively trouble-free day which catapulted the 20-year-old Russian from 15th to lie tenth going into the final day.
Sunday morning saw Novikov move up into ninth but during the 30 km Plum Pudding stage, the driver rolled his Ford Fiesta RS WRC 7 km into the stage due to a wrongly marked pacenote from the recce. Both Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet were OK but significant damage to their Ford Fiesta RS WRC forced the pair to call it a day.
An equally dramatic morning followed for Solberg who rolled his car 1.5 km towards the end of Stage 23 after braking late at a junction. Solberg and Minor were able to roll their car back onto four wheels with help from spectators and made it to the end of the 4.58 km stage but suffered cosmetic damage, a shattered windscreen and nearly three minutes time loss.
The M-Sport Stobart team worked hard on Solberg’s car at Service H and despite two flat tyres on the day’s closing Power Stage the driver pulled into the final service pleased to have made it through a difficult rally and placed 14th overall.
Wilson had a clear run through Sunday’s stages where the young Briton consolidated his fourth place finish and 12 well-deserved driver points. Wilson is now only four points adrift of achieving his best ever result in the FIA Drivers’ Championship standings and sits just four points adrift of Norway’s Mads Østberg who remains in sixth.
Matthew Wilson said:
“It’s been a really difficult weekend but I’m really happy with our result, especially with Scott beside me as this is our best finish with him as my co-driver. Today I haven’t been trying to push - we needed to do the sensible thing and find a comfortable pace to ensure we didn’t make any mistakes. Friday was incredibly difficult – the roads were so slippery and it was one of the hardest days rallying I’ve had. You know it’s a difficult day when a seven-time World Champion retires! We enjoyed yesterday’s stages and the conditions but I was disappointed when Henning stopped with his problem as it wasn’t the way we wanted to move up the leaderboard. The car has been working well today and we were just driving at our own speed as the gap to Petter [Solberg] was too much to risk making any silly mistakes. I’m now hoping that this result will help to get us something sorted for next year.”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“Of course, I am feeling disappointed. Today we had a wrong pacenote from the recce – I had it marked down as a flat section but we went too wide on a fast left-hand corner and the car went up on two wheels. From there we rolled maybe four or five times – it was one of the biggest crashes I think I’ve had. At this point there was nothing we could do but hope it didn’t hit one of the trees as we were in sixth gear going flat out at the time. Denis and I are both fine and I would like to thank M-Sport for building us a very safe car. We have had some problems this weekend but when everything was working well I was happy with our speed.”
Henning Solberg said:
“Today I just tried to come back and do better than yesterday. I wanted to push on the first pass on the Power Stage to see how fast we could go but I braked too late after a junction and hit a tree stump which flipped the car. I was sitting upside down for about a minute and waiting for some spectators to come and help but we got ourselves out and tipped the car back over with some help from people nearby. We lost a couple of minutes and broke our windscreen but we kept it going. The team did a good job of sorting the car at service but we had a broken right rear shock absorber this afternoon so I could not push on the Power Stage like I had planned. Then I got two flat tyres after the water splash but I have made it to the end and although I am a little disappointed that we had our problem yesterday I am happy to finish.”
M-Sport Stobart Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s been an incredibly difficult weekend here in Australia and one of mixed fortunes for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team. Evgeny has impressed once again with his pace but unfortunately he was unable to keep it on the road to make it to the end with a fitting result. Henning has also had a mixed weekend – it was great to see him up to fourth yesterday but he was unlucky with his problem which knocked him out of the top ten. As for Matthew, I’m really pleased to see him finish in fourth place. He’s been very close on two occasions this season but has narrowly missed out so I’m delighted he and Scott have managed it this time. The pair have been working very hard this year and they thoroughly deserve this result after such a difficult event.”