Stobart’s Østberg Secures Best Ever Finish On Asphalt
M-Sport Stobart Ford’s Mads Østberg secured his best ever result on asphalt after finishing sixth at this weekend’s RACC Rally de España in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Team-mate Henning Solberg finished eighth but Matthew Wilson retired after he tore the front-left wheel off his Fiesta RS WRC on the penultimate stage.
Friday’s opening stages saw the Cumbria-based team travel west of the rally base in Salou where they tackled a unique selection of mixed gravel and asphalt stages totalling 160 km in the Tarragona region. Three minute gaps were introduced to eliminate problems with dust but the lack of wind meant lingering dust clouds hampered the M-Sport Stobart drivers’ visibility throughout the morning.
Østberg also had the added difficulty of being restricted to a Tarmac-specification differential which created handling problems on the day’s predominantly gravel stages. The 24-year-old, however, produced a polished performance to finish the day seventh, only 10.3 seconds adrift of Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke in sixth place.
After posting the third-fastest Shakedown time, Solberg was hoping to emulate his strong performance from last year’s outing in Spain. Intercom problems, however, hindered the Norwegian’s progress who was forced to rely on his memory rather than co-driver Ilka Minor’s pacenotes. The issue was fixed before the day’s closing night stage and Solberg went on to set the fourth fastest time.
Britain’s Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin had a difficult morning on Friday after a gearbox problem hindered their progress. The team made some small changes to the gearbox and engine map during Service A and the repeat afternoon pass fared better for Wilson who pulled into the end of a challenging first day to lie tenth overnight.
Friday evening’s 75 minute flexi service saw the squad’s Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars transformed into lower and more aggressive asphalt specification in order to tackle the remaining two days on Tarmac roads. After contesting Friday’s stages in gravel set-up, the WRC crews were challenged with tackling the second longest stage of the season, the 45.97 km El Priorat stage, on Saturday’s opening stage.
Overheating brakes hindered Østberg’s charge for sixth place on Saturday morning. The pedals and brake cylinders were changed during Service D and Østberg had a clear run through the repeat afternoon leg to finish the day in seventh place.
Fellow countryman Solberg was feeling unwell for most of Saturday but the Norwegian driver had a trouble-free day and was happy with his progress piloting the Ford Fiesta RS WRC on asphalt. Wilson reported heavy steering on Saturday afternoon so his service team changed the steering rack during tonight’s service. The Englishman held tenth overnight whilst Solberg remained in eighth.
The final day of competition proved unlucky for Wilson who hit a barrier 17 km into the event’s penultimate stage and tore the front-left wheel off his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The 24-year-old driver was forced to retire and will now concentrate on putting in a strong performance at his home event, Wales Rally GB, next month.
Solberg battled with Russia’s Evgeny Novikov during the final day but narrowly missed out on eighth place by 8.3 seconds. Østberg had an impressive closing day despite a small problem with overheating brakes. The recently-crowned Norwegian Rally Champion took advantage of Sebastien Ogier’s retirement on the penultimate stage to move into sixth and Østberg pulled into the end of a challenging rally delighted with his best ever result on asphalt.
Mads Østberg said:
“Overall I am very happy with my performance and I’ve even had some fun today on the stages. The asphalt has been very enjoyable and I have been really happy with my pace compared to France and Germany. The last two stages today have been very good and I am feeling a lot more comfortable driving on Tarmac. We wanted to try to push for the Power Stage so we made some changes after the first run but at the same time we didn’t want to do anything stupid. Friday was a difficult day which is something that I didn’t expect going into this rally but it’s been an encouraging weekend and I think I have learned a lot of valuable lessons.”
Henning Solberg said:
“It’s been an OK weekend for me – not great, but not too bad either. I wanted to try and push to get that position back from [Evgeny] Novikov but he was going a lot faster than me and there weren’t enough stages to push and get that time back. Friday was a tough day, the intercom made it difficult but we made it through and that was the most important thing. I am happy to have brought the car home safely and now I will look forward to Wales where I will try my best to entertain the crowds.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“For sure, this isn’t the how I wanted to finish the rally but we were trying to keep ahead of Dennis Kuipers so we pushing quite a bit on the stage. I oversteered into a right-hand corner which left me running wide into a left-hander where I hit the Armco and ripped off the front left wheel. It’s not the way anybody wants to finish after getting so close to the end but this is sometimes the nature of rallying. Now I must concentrate on my home event in the UK next month where I want to put on a good show for the British fans.”
M-Sport Stobart Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s been a tough weekend for the team but Mads has done an incredible job to finish with his best ever result on asphalt. He’s been improving on every rally this year and his result is very well deserved. Henning has also done well over weekend, he had a difficult job on Friday without the intercom and considering he’s not been feeling well he has done a great job of bringing the car home in eighth place. Matthew was unfortunate today but he will have to put this weekend behind him in order to aim for a strong result on home soil next month. Today's result has obviously been overshadowed by the tragic death of Marco Simoncelli in the MotoGP race in Malaysia. Marco visited M-Sport just a few weeks ago to test a Fiesta RS WRC. His enthusiasm and delight at being in the car were clear for all to see and we are all extremely saddened at the news. Our sincere condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues."