Østberg Heads Stobart Charge In Sunny Strasbourg
Norway’s Mads Østberg leads the way for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team and lies eighth at the end of a drama-filled opening day at Rallye de France Alsace.
The Cumbria-based squad left the rally base in Strasbourg, claimed by many as the “capital of Europe”, to journey south-west of the scenic French Alsace region. The drivers tackled a repeat loop of four speed tests totalling 148.38 km in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars which were separated by a 30 minute service back at Strasbourg Zénith.
Rallye de France is the second asphalt round of the season and marks only the second time that the Fiesta RS WRC has competed in full tarmac spec. The tricky technical stages saw a number of WRC crews drop by the wayside including seven-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb but the four M-Sport Stobart crews successfully kept their Ford Fiesta RS WRCs largely out of trouble.
Recently-crowned Norwegian Rally Champions Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson had a strong return to the WRC and were lying fifth after the morning pass. The pair slipped back to eighth after a left-rear puncture during Stage 7 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 during the morning’s stages. The pair swapped for harder compound tyres before the repeat loop and a trouble-free afternoon followed. Solberg lies tenth at the end of the first day.
British pairing Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin lie 15th despite difficulties finding a good feeling with their Fiesta RS WRC on the slippery sealed surface. The duo changed for hard compound tyres for the repeat pass but a small issue with steering meant Wilson was unable to challenge for more competitive stage times.
Evgeny Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet are sitting 11th going into the second day. The pair 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 Novikov reported he was happy with his first competitive debut on asphalt with the Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Mads Østberg said:
“It’s been a good day for us apart from the time we lost due to the puncture. We were also down on a bit of power this morning and we felt it on the launch this afternoon but it’s not been too much of a problem. Apart from this the car has been working nicely – the handling is good but I just need to be a bit more careful on the brakes. Last year I retired on Stage 2 so to get to the end of today with no big problems makes me very happy. Puncture aside, today has been a good step forward for us driving on tarmac that’s for sure.”
Henning Solberg said:
“I’m here at the end of today so I am happy. There have been a few small problems like when I had an overshoot at a junction on Stage 3 and had to reverse. Then there was the small incident when Kimi [Raikkonen] went into the back of me on the road section to Stage 3 which caused a bit of damage to the rear left of the car but this was not a problem. For sure, we made the wrong decision on the tyre choice this morning but this afternoon was perfect. Tomorrow my plan is to drive as fast as I can and then we will see where we are.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“It’s been a mixed day for us. The first two stages this morning were good but then we definitely had the wrong choice of tyres for the long stage. From about 16 km it was really difficult to find a good feeling as the car was moving around too much. Then we made a small mistake on the gravel section on Stage 4. This afternoon has been OK but we’ve had a small problem with the steering. It’s feeling heavy at times so I’ve not been feeling like I can push as much as I’d like. I’m not sure what’s wrong exactly but the team are going to look at the car properly during service and we’ll probably change the steering rack.”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“We had a puncture with 13 km to go to the end of Stage 3 so we lost a lot of time. We don’t have any other problems apart from this. The car is going well and tomorrow I want to make it through with no problems. It is important this weekend that I learn more about driving the Ford Fiesta RS WRC on asphalt as I have only had a small amount of experience from the test we had on Monday.”