M-Sport Stobart Ford press release
Norwegians Head Stobart Charge After Dramatic Rallye De France
M-Sport Stobart Ford’s Norwegian contingent of Henning Solberg and Mads Østberg successfully finished Rally de France in seventh and eighth place in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars. Team-mate Matthew Wilson finished 11th.
The Cumbria-based squad travelled to Strasbourg, claimed by many as the “capital of Europe”, to contest 23 stages covering 337 km in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars. The drivers were greeted with glorious sunshine for the majority of the 11th round of the WRC where temperatures soared as high as 30 degrees Celsius. However, dew and cooler mornings meant that tyre choice provided an added challenge as the crews had to choose either hard or soft compound Michelin Pilot Sport tyres.
Friday’s tricky technical stages saw a number of WRC crews drop by the wayside including seven-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and former Formula One Champion Kimi Raikkonen but the four M-Sport Stobart crews made it through a difficult opening day to maintain two top ten positions.
Recently-crowned Norwegian Rally Champions Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson were lying fifth after the opening loop. The pair slipped back to eighth after a left-rear puncture during Stage 7 cost them over a minute but were pleased to finish a difficult day only 13.7 seconds adrift of seventh place.
Regular M-Sport Stobart team-mates Henning Solberg and Austrian co-driver Ilka Minor reported difficulties after opting for the softer compound Michelin Pilot Sport tyres for the day’s opening stages. Harder compound tyres were fitted to the driver’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC before the repeat loop and Solberg moved up to tenth going into Day 2.
Britain’s Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin were 15th after Friday despite difficulties with power steering and finding a good rhythm. The duo changed for hard compound tyres for the afternoon which helped but Wilson was unable to challenge for more competitive stage times due to lack of confidence in the car.
Evgeny Novikov and French co-driver Denis Giraudet suffered from a puncture 23 km into the lengthy 36 km Pays d’Ormont stage [Stage 3] which cost them over a minute. A drama-free afternoon followed and the Russian driver was placed 11th overnight.
Saturday saw the M-Sport Stobart crews travel south to the Haut-Rhin region where Novikov collided with a hay bale on Stage 11. Significant front-right damage to the driver’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC meant the 21-year-old Russian was forced to call it a day.
Solberg had a clear run through Saturday’s stages reporting only a small issue with overheating brakes and a near miss with a wild pig during Stage 12. The Norwegian driver was 16.8 seconds adrift of seventh place going into the final day.
Østberg had an unlucky morning when he suffered from a slow puncture at the start of Stage 12 and dropped back to tenth. Stage 13 saw the Scandinavian driver run wide and lose time when his wheel rim was filled with mud. Two top five stage times, however, were a consolation and the four-time Norwegian Rally Champion finished the day ninth, 50.8 seconds behind Solberg.
Steering issues returned for Wilson for the majority of Saturday’s stages but the 24-year-old successfully climbed the WRC leaderboard to finish the second day in 12th position.
On Saturday evening Wilson’s team softened the car and altered the set-up ahead of Sunday’s closing stages. The changes made were immediately apparent as Wilson set two top five stage times including a fifth-fastest time during the rally’s closing Power Stage. Despite a difficult weekend, the British driver is now feeling confident ahead of Spain after finding an asphalt set-up on the Ford Fiesta RS WRC he is happy with.
Sunday proved relatively trouble-free for both Østberg and Solberg who took advantage of Armindo Araujo who crashed out on Stage 18 to move up into seventh and eighth place. Three top five stages followed for Østberg including a third fastest time on Stage 19. A front-right puncture for the Norwegian driver on the closing Power Stage dashed his hopes for extra points but the 23-year-old pulled into the final service pleased with his increased pace on asphalt.
Novikov returned for the final day of action at Rallye de France under SupeRally regulations to finish the event 24th overall.
Mads Østberg said:
“I am very pleased with how this weekend has gone. We lost over three minutes with slow punctures on the first two days and then we had a front-right puncture on the last stage so that is a little frustrating. During some of the stages I felt I could really push and I enjoyed today and yesterday when we were feeling good in the car. Today has been an especially positive day as I’m happy with the pace we’ve been setting. I think it’s important to get a good feeling in the car before another asphalt round and we’ve certainly noticed some big improvements this weekend. I have to say that I’m pleased with my progress driving on asphalt and I’m looking forward to Spain to see if I can improve some more.”
Henning Solberg said:
“I am pleased with my position but I’ve not been so happy with my speed on some of the stages. I didn’t have a safety crew and with a lot of metal poles on the side of the road it is very difficult to know where they are or when they have been removed. I tried to push in the Power Stage but the roads were very slippery so I didn’t want to risk too much and go off the road like I did in Australia. I think I have found a good set-up in the car now – we’ve done a lot of experimenting and I’ve seen an improvement with my driving on asphalt. I’m looking forward to getting out to Spain and I will try to get back into the top five or six.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“It’s been a difficult weekend but we’ve had a good final day after the team made some small changes to the car last night. We did nothing too drastic but softened everything and we’ve been able to lean on the car a lot more which has helped with grip. When things don’t feel right it’s really difficult to have the confidence you need and I think that was one of the main problems we had on the first two days. The changes we made last night have made a big difference and I’ve found that I’ve been driving much better today. I think I’ve found a good set-up now and we will leave the car as it is for Spain so that we can be more competitive over there.”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“It is good news to be here and to have made it to the end of my second rally this year but for sure, it would have been better if it wasn’t under SupeRally. Yesterday we crashed into a chicane in the middle of the road and couldn’t get the car going again because of the damage from the impact. The team worked hard to fix the car yesterday and we had a good set-up today. We had to wait over an hour before the Power Stage and because it was a short stage it was hard to get the heat back into the tyres. I would have liked to have pushed more on that stage but I am happy with how today has gone.”