Record-Breaking Double Podium For Stobart In Wales
British-based M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team have ended the final round of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship, Wales Rally GB, with Mads Østberg and Henning Solberg claiming the team’s first ever double podium. Team-mate Matthew Wilson finished fifth at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta RS WRC securing his best result on home soil.
The team’s stunning result has rounded off an incredible season for the Cumbria-based squad who have now claimed eleven podium finishes since the team’s inception into the WRC in 2006. It also marks the second time that 24-year-old Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson have finished on the podium after securing the runner-up spot at the WRC season-opener in Sweden at the start of the year.
Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin’s fifth place not only marks the pair’s best finish at the British round of the WRC, but also secures their most successful season to date as they have racked up four top five finishes this year. Wilson’s ten points haul has also seen the British driver move ahead of Dani Sordo as he finishes the year seventh in the drivers’ championship, 25 points behind team-mate Østberg.
Henning Solberg’s third place marks the Norwegian’s first podium result since 2009’s Rally Poland. It marks Solberg’s sixth podium in the WRC but is the first podium with co-driver Ilka Minor who has not finished in the top three in a WRC event since 2006.
This format of this year’s WRC finale underwent a facelift for 2011 with the itinerary starting in the seaside town of Llandudno in northern Wales on Friday and finishing in Cardiff today [Sunday].
Østberg and Andersson’s rally got off to a strong start after the Scandinavian duo set the fastest time at the pre-event shakedown test on Wednesday. At the end of Thursday’s three opening stages, Østberg was 0.5 seconds adrift of sixth place despite reporting a small problem with power in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Team-mates Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg were ninth and tenth respectively.
Friday’s stages were set in the Dyfi and Dyfnant Forests where the treacherously slippery road conditions proved troublesome for several WRC crews. The M-Sport Stobart Ford crews, however, took advantage of the other drivers’ misfortunes to charge up the WRC leaderboard. Østberg led the way for the Cumbria-based squad and finished the day third overall. It marked the first time that the Stobart team finished a full day of action at the British round of the WRC in a podium position.
Wilson battled with fellow British driver Kris Meeke throughout Friday. He was 30 seconds clear of Meeke before the day’s closing stage but heavy fog hindered the 24-year-old Englishman’s charge and dropped Wilson back to ninth. With only 8.1 seconds separating the two British drivers, the set was scene for an enthralling battle on Saturday. Solberg held fifth at the end of Friday’s leg.
With only 7.8 seconds separating Østberg and fellow countryman Petter Solberg going into Saturday’s stages, the M-Sport Stobart ace was eager to push his Ford Fiesta RS WRC to the limit in order to hold off the 2003 World Rally Champion. A retirement for Solberg on the road section to Stage 12, however, eased the pressure for Østberg who had a trouble-free morning.
At Service E the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team dominated the top five spots of the WRC leaderboard with Østberg leading the way in third place. Solberg was fourth, one minute and 10.5 seconds ahead of Wilson who rounded off the top five.
Solberg produced a polished performance throughout Saturday and the M-Sport Stobart driver moved into fourth following his younger brother’s retirement. With Meeke only 45 seconds behind Solberg, the Norwegian driver was keen to push ahead of the Briton in order to secure his best result of the season.
Sunday proved dramatic as eight-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb retired after an incident on the road section to Stage 19. All three M-Sport Stobart crews took advantage of Loeb’s misfortune as Østberg moved up to second, Solberg into third and Wilson rounded off the top five.
Eager to secure his first podium result since 2009’s Rally Poland, Solberg put in a tremendous effort to try and prevent Britain’s Meeke from snatching third. The battle went down to the wire as only 1.8 seconds separated the two drivers going into the event’s closing power stage. Despite Meeke’s best efforts, Solberg edged ahead during the final stage and the delighted Norwegian finished the final round of the WRC on the podium for the first time this season.
Mads Østberg said:
“I am so happy right now. This is the perfect end to the season and to finish on the podium alongside Henning [Solberg] and Jari-Matti [Latvala] who are such nice guys is even better! Loeb’s exit was unfortunate - it was through no fault of his own so maybe we didn’t deserve to finish second but I can’t say that I am not happy to end the year in the same way that it started in Sweden. We pushed a lot to gain some positions on Friday and we managed to get through the last two days to move even further up the leaderboard. It’s been an up and down year but overall I think everything has gone well. We’ve worked really hard and I’ve been really happy with our pace over the last couple of rallies. I’m also really pleased with how we have improved our pace on asphalt. I always said I wanted to finish this year with another podium so to end the season with this result feels very good!”
Henning Solberg said:
“It was a good fight with Kris [Meeke] today. I tried to keep calm and just look at the times to make sure we could try to stay ahead. I am very, very happy to finish on the podium and it’s my first time alongside Ilka, so that is really good. For sure, it has been a really tough year but this is just the most perfect way to end the season. I will now speak to my sponsors for next year so I hope this result will help secure us a good deal for 2012. It’s great to see eight Fords in the final top ten and it’s even more amazing to have two podium spots going to Norway!”
Matthew Wilson said:
“Wow, what a weekend! It’s been a long rally with a lot of action but it’s been a good event for us and our team-mates. It’s fantastic to see Mads and Henning on the podium, they really deserve it. We’ve not made any big mistakes although we struggled with the very slippery road surfaces at times on Friday. We’ve really enjoyed today, the sun has been shining and we’ve finished our home event with our best result ever which is the icing on the cake! I really enjoyed the stages up near Llandudno in the north and with all the fans up there it has been a very positive change to the format. I love the forests here in Wales - the stages are fantastic and the fans are unbelievably supportive. We’ve found a good rhythm today and we’ve been able to enjoy ourselves too so we are very happy.”
M-Sport Stobart Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Today’s double podium result has rounded off an incredible season for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team. All three drivers have finished this year’s event with their best ever result on British soil and it’s a fantastic achievement for Stobart to have started and ended the season on the podium. Mads has been a joy to work with this year. He has a mature head on his shoulders and has an extremely exciting future ahead of him. Matthew has had a very strong year, he’s finished in the top five more than any other season and to finish 2011 with his best ever result on home territory is the perfect ending, both for him and for the British fans. To have Henning finish on the podium is the icing on the cake. He and Ilka have worked hard this year and they very much deserve that spot on the podium alongside Mads. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Sébastien Loeb on his eighth World Rally Championship title.”