Solberg celebrates perfect podium in Argentina The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team romped to their best result since Rally Japan in 2007 as Henning Solberg achieved his first podium of 2009, finishing third, with Matthew Wilson coming in hot on...
Solberg celebrates perfect podium in Argentina
The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team romped to their best result since Rally Japan in 2007 as Henning Solberg achieved his first podium of 2009, finishing third, with Matthew Wilson coming in hot on his heels in fifth. The ten-point haul means that the Stobart team have closed the gap on the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team, in second, to just six points in the manufacturer standings.
In some of the toughest conditions experienced at Rally Argentina in recent years both Stobart crews showed the consistency and reliability that has become their trademark over the course of this season to avoid the pitfalls that caught out other crews and steadily moved up the standings over the course of the rally.
Starting the final day of the rally in fifth and seventh places respectively the Ford Focus RS WRCs of Solberg and Wilson stood up well to the exceptionally rough and rutted conditions on the short loop of stages to the north and west of Service Park in Villa Carlos Paz. As Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg fell by the wayside the Stobart duo stayed on course for an outstanding result.
The fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship started in spectacular style on Thursday with the first of three super special stages in the Cordoba Stadium. Wilson was pitted against fellow young gun Sebastien Ogier coming in just one second behind the Frenchman to finish ninth. Meanwhile Solberg, the winner of two Super Specials in Portugal earlier this month, went up against younger brother Petter finishing 0.6 seconds behind the younger Solberg and taking fifth place overall.
Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud had to overcome problems with dust coming into the car on day one's sandy, slippery stages but did well to stay in contact with the crews around them including Latvala and Petter Solberg. Meanwhile Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin climbed up from their overnight position of ninth to finish the day in seventh place.
Day two saw the drivers tackle some of the most iconic stages of Rally Argentina taking in the spectacular lunar landscapes of Mina Clavero and the soaring heights of El Condor, the highest stage on the WRC calendar this season at 2122 metres. Both Solberg and Wilson struggled with set-up issues on the morning loop but soaked up every challenge thrown at them by the unforgiving Argentine stages, with Wilson losing time early on as he swerved to avoid a dog on the road. Thanks to the endeavours of the team engineers during the midday service, both drivers were more pleased with their set-up and began their charge back up the field on the afternoon stages.
Wilson spent much of the day locked in a battle with Argentine champion Federico Villagra, eventually coming off second-best to the more experienced local man and ended the day in seventh following the second Super Special stage in the Cordoba Stadium. But the patience shown by both drivers on Saturday paid off on the final day as they moved up to take their best result of the season so far and Wilson got his revenge as he beat Villagra in the Cordoba Stadium on the final stage of the rally.
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Sebastien Loeb looked virtually unstoppable as he took his fifth victory of the season ahead of Citroen team mate Dani Sordo. Meanwhile Munchi's Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra achieved his best ever WRC finish, fourth place, to delight the fans on his home WRC event.
After losing Mikko Hirvonen from the rally at the end of day two as his engine overheated, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team suffered a further blow on Day Three when Jari-Matti Latvala's engine stopped and he lost around eight minutes. There was also frustration for Petter Solberg who had been on course for a podium finish until he was forced to retire from the rally on SS20.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"It's a fantastic result for us, I can't believe it. It's been such a long time since my last podium and we have really worked hard this year and especially on this event; it was much tougher than I expected. I'm very sorry for Petter, he has done a good job here also, but this is what happens in rallying. I spent time before this rally working on the set-up with my engineer because I knew we could do well here if I had a good feeling. It was difficult on Saturday, the stages started off slippery then got very rough and we struggled a bit with getting the car to turn in. We have got a Ford on the podium and collected points for the Stobart team and me; now I'm back into fourth and ahead of Petter in the championship."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"I'm very happy with this finish and it's great to get back scoring more points after our retirement last time out in Portugal. We could have finished higher, I think fourth would have been possible, but we just lost too much time on the second day. The damper problem meant we lost the feeling with the car and we couldn't push as hard as we needed in order to stay in the battle with Federico; those stages were so technical and twisty that any problem will drop you lots of time. It has been one of the roughest events I have ever done, worse than Greece in places, but to finish with more points and maintain my improved run this season is great and a big boost."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"We've witnessed another solid team result for Stobart and a very clever and calculated drive by Henning. After the recce both crews felt that they would have to treat this rally with respect, they have done just that and have been rewarded with strong finishes and a fantastic podium for Henning and Cato. The cars have run faultlessly throughout this event, one of the toughest Rally Argentinas for a long time, and helped the guys deliver an impressive team performance."
Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
"It's been another encouraging team performance on a rally that has claimed quite a few casualties. Matt and Scott have put the problems in Portugal behind them and driven a really sensible rally and it's great to see Henning, and another Stobart car, back on the podium again. We've moved closer to the factory Ford team in the championship and it's an important confidence boost for both drivers going to Sardinia; a rally they really enjoy."