Stobart's Wilson secures eighth in Strasbourg Stobart M-Sport Ford's Matthew Wilson claimed this year's Rallye de France was one of the toughest events of his career but the 23-year-old still battled on to finish eighth...
Stobart's Wilson secures eighth in Strasbourg
Stobart M-Sport Ford's Matthew Wilson claimed this year's Rallye de France was one of the toughest events of his career but the 23-year-old still battled on to finish eighth overall.
Joining Wilson in the points-scoring line up for the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team in France were the Monster World Rally Team crew of Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino. The American rally driver took his first World Rally Championship win of the season, finishing 12th overall despite having hydraulic problems on the opening day.
The newly-located event marked the first time that Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin had driven their Ford Focus RS WRC on asphalt since ADAC Rallye Deutschland in August and the British duo were locked in an exciting battle for seventh place with Munchi's Ford driver Federico Villagra from the outset.
Wilson initially struggled to adapt to the slippery sealed surface and the patchy conditions on Friday's opening asphalt tests made it difficult for the 23-year-old to find the right rhythm due to the constant change of grip. The crew pulled into a remote service at Mulhouse 14.1 seconds behind the Munchi's Ford driver but 3.6 seconds ahead of Block.
The Cumbrian duo were keen to extend their lead over their American team-mate and steadily improved their times in the repeat afternoon pass. Wilson finished SS7, the 22.33 km Vallee de Munster 1 test, 11.2 seconds quicker than he did that morning and the young Briton took advantage of Frigyes Turan who stopped on SS8 to move into ninth position. Wilson and Martin pulled into the final service at Strasbourg Zenith 23.5 seconds adrift of Villagra but had successfully extended their lead over Block.
Wilson reported that Saturday's stages were some of the most difficult of his rallying career and throughout the morning loop the young Briton lost valuable time as he was forced to steer his Ford Focus RS WRC through mud and gravel that had been dragged onto the road by the WRC front-runners. However, by Service D he had successfully moved up into eighth position - ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Block but 33.1 seconds behind Villagra.
On Saturday afternoon, Wilson successfully produced his fastest time of the day during the 35.48 km Pays d'Ormont 2 stage [SS15] which he had targeted as a pivotal point in order to take the lead over Villagra. He finished the tricky alpine test an impressive 28.9 seconds ahead of the Argentinean and only 0.5 seconds separated the two drivers going into the day's closing stage. However, Wilson spun on the same 2 km section of gravel that he had encountered problems with in the morning pass and then stalled his engine. The incident lost the Stobart driver approximately ten seconds and meant he was unable to catch Villagra who was leading the 23-year-old by 2.4 seconds at the end of the second day.
The final day of action at Rallye de France started badly for the Stobart driver as he overshot a junction on SS18 and lost nearly ten seconds. The time lost on the 24.70 km stage proved crucial as the repeat pass was cancelled and meant a gap of 15.2 seconds between the two drivers remained. With only one short 4.29 km Super Special Stage remaining, Wilson's hopes of snatching seventh place from Villagra were dashed, despite finishing the final test 3.4 seconds ahead of the Munchi's Ford driver.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"This has easily been the hardest WRC round of 2010 in my opinion -- I can't believe this was a Tarmac event as there was just so much mud on the stages. When Scott [Martin] and I pulled into final service yesterday, you only had to look at the amount of mud caked all over the cars to understand how dirty had been out there. There were even some sections I think we would have been more effective using gravel tyres. There's also been some very changeable conditions on this rally and I think that this is one of the most difficult things about rallying -- it makes it very hard to maintain any form of rhythm as the grip was constantly changing. Some of the stages this weekend reminded me of Monte Carlo -- that is one of the hardest rallies in my opinion and this rally has been no different. I'm slightly disappointed to not have been able to catch up Federico [Villagra] as we were so close to catching him yesterday afternoon but I'm just happy to have made it to the end of such a tough event and to get some more points for the team."
Stobart M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"The conditions on the stages in France this weekend have been extremely tough for the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team and Matthew has done well to finish in eighth place. We have been delighted to welcome Ken Block to the points-scoring line up for the Stobart crew for this event and it is fantastic that he has finished 12th on such a challenging event. We've also just found out that he has won the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally award for this event which he thoroughly deserves after the work he has done to help raise public awareness of both the sport and championship. I would also like to point out how delighted the team have been with Henning Solberg this weekend -- even though he wasn't part of the points scoring line-up for the Stobart crew over the weekend, he has been a dedicated team-mate for Matthew over the past few seasons and he dominated the S2000 class from start to finish driving the Ford Fiesta S2000."