Østberg Holds Podium Spot As Solberg Set For Season-Best
M-Sport Stobart Ford’s Norwegian contingent of Mads Østberg and Henning Solberg are third and fourth in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars after the second full day of action at Wales Rally GB. Team-mate Matthew Wilson is sixth overall, only 45.6 seconds behind fellow Briton Kris Meeke.
The sun shone for the majority of today’s repeat loop of three stages totalling 128.06 km set north-west of the rally base in Builth Wells. The repeat pass included the legendary Sweet Lamb stage with its notorious water splash set close to the Hafren Forest.
With only 7.8 seconds separating Østberg and fellow countryman Petter Solberg going into today’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 and co-driver Jonas Andersson who had a trouble-free morning to finish the first loop of stages over two minutes ahead of their team-mate Henning Solberg in fourth.
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.
The repeat afternoon pass saw a battle of the British drivers emerge as Wilson and Meeke both targeted fifth place but a small problem with the car handling on Wilson’s Fiesta RS WRC saw Meeke edge ahead. At the end of today’s stages, 24-year-old Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin dropped back into sixth, 45.6 seconds adrift of Northern Ireland’s Meeke.
Henning Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor produced a polished performance throughout today’s stages and the M-Sport duo moved into fourth following Solberg Junior’s retirement. With Britain’s Meeke only 45 seconds behind Solberg, the Norwegian driver will be looking to push during the final day tomorrow in order to finish his year on a high with a season-best fourth place.
Mads Østberg said:
“This morning was quite OK for us but this afternoon has been really frustrating. There’s been something wrong with the engine but we weren’t really sure what it was. At first we thought it was a leak in the cooling system and we couldn’t stop the car as we would be down to three cylinders so we kept it running. We had a message from the team to keep the engine at a high a rev as possible so we were probably one gear lower than we needed to be for most of this afternoon. It’s frustrating but we didn’t lose too much time so that is good. We really wanted to hold onto third so we did everything we possibly could to get the car back to service. Our team don’t seem too overly concerned with the problem so we should hopefully get it fixed tonight and we can finish tomorrow on the podium. That is all I care about right now!”
Henning Solberg said:
“We had a very good road position this afternoon and everything has been good. We didn’t push this morning after Petter retired - there’s not been any battle so we didn’t need to. But then this afternoon we’ve had Kris [Meeke] right behind us so tomorrow we really need to push to stay ahead tomorrow. The weather has been good today but the stages this afternoon have been very messy. For sure, it’s been a difficult afternoon and trying to find the grip has been very tricky. We had a couple of big moments this morning but apart from that everything is OK. I really hope to stay in fourth so tomorrow I want to go flat out to finish with our best result of the season.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“It’s been a good day today but it’s not been without its difficulties. We’ve struggled with understeer this afternoon and Sweet Lamb was crazy this afternoon after the national rally had been through it. We may as well have thrown the pacenotes away for some of it as the corners were so different with lots of holes. It was very slippery too with all the loose stones. This morning’s pass was OK but there was a massive rock on the line after a left-hander on Sweet Lamb. It hit the sump guard and launched us into the air. Everything was OK with the car so but we were lucky. There have been huge crowds on the stages today. It’s fantastic to see such great support on our home event, it’s massively appreciated.”