All three Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team drivers completed leg one safely after battling the testing two night stages. With low air temperatures, and road temperatures between one and four degrees Celsius, stage 1 set the challenge for competitors...
All three Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team drivers completed leg one safely after battling the testing two night stages. With low air temperatures, and road temperatures between one and four degrees Celsius, stage 1 set the challenge for competitors as they climbed as high as 1400 meters up the tricky opening test.
Damp roads and extremely mild conditions were demanding on competitors with many drivers attributing slow stage times to a lack of confidence due to slippery road conditions.
A small down-pour prior to the start of stage 2 made conditions particularly difficult as drivers tackled La Cime du Mas -- Col de Gaudissart the closing stage of leg 1. While the roads were quite slippery the unlikely absence of snow and ice, common to Rallye Monte-Carlo for the past 75 years, meant leg 1 was a proper tarmac style rally.
Stage 2 consisted of several kilometres of fast two lane wide roads mildly spoiled by small patches of standing water and mud, testing the soft slick tyres chosen by most drivers.
It was a solid effort for all three Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team drivers; Matthew Wilson, Jari-Matti Latvala and Henning Solberg, as they completed both the night stages with no problems. With their first drive on tarmac in a Ford Focus RS WRC 06 at shakedown this morning, all three drivers set out to tame the precarious opening two stages.
Solberg was first of the Stobart VK M-Sport cars to take to leg 1 as he took things at pace in his first proper tarmac rally stage. At times he struggled to hear co-driver Cato Menkerud causing him to take extra caution in places of the pace-note important night stages. Rallye Monte-Carlo was contested by Solberg last year, but with snow and ice, it was a different style of rally altogether.
Latvala was quickest of the three cars but explained that he could not find his confidence on the twisty and slippy roads. The young Finn finished 12th at the end of the day having showed improved speed on stage 2 en route to leg 2, which consists of one of the longest stages of the year, St Pierreville, at 46.02km.
19-year-old Briton, Wilson, had a steady opening leg in only his second ever drive on a competitive night stage. Wilson took a cautious approach on stage 1, choosing to preserve his tyres and he continued that approach still adjusting to unfamiliar night-time stages.
It was a solid run for the young talent who finished in 15th position and second in the Stobart VK M-Sport team cavalry after leg 1 of Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Matthew Wilson said:
"I drove a bit too cautiously on the stages and the tyres tonight, but this is my second time ever racing at night so it was difficult, but good fun. I had a bit of trouble with my notes too, I was lifting off slightly where I probably shouldn't have but I think it comes down to lack of experience and confidence driving at night. We'll see how things go tomorrow but I really want to get experience of this rally and these stages so it's important for me to finish."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
"The car is really great. I feel very confident with the car but can't get confident enough to drive fast. It was hard to feel at-home on the slippery roads tonight and find the rhythm I need to drive competitively. We have two days left and the whole year ahead of us so we will see how it goes!"
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Henning Solberg said:
"I was taking it slowly tonight, it is very difficult in the dark but it is ok. I had a small problem hearing Cato sometimes but this is my first tarmac rally with no snow or ice so we just take it slowly and see how the times are tomorrow."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"I'm not really surprised with how things went tonight. I told the guys to start off steady and that's exactly what they did. It's just good that all three are back here tonight with not a mark on the cars. It's a new adventure for all of them and it's important that they get experience of these roads if the rally returns here next year. Tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start so will see how they go then."