FINAL DAY BATTLE FOR STOBART DRIVERS Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg are perfectly placed to take home a good points haul from the Rally de Portugal as they lie fifth and sixth overall at the end of day two....
FINAL DAY BATTLE FOR STOBART DRIVERS
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg are perfectly placed to take home a good points haul from the Rally de Portugal as they lie fifth and sixth overall at the end of day two. The team mates are separated by less than a second setting up a thrilling finish to the rally tomorrow.
In the morning the front runners had their work cut out clearing the loose gravel from the stages, benefitting those crews starting further down the field. A number of drivers struggled in the challenging conditions which pushed concentration levels to the limit as the pace changed from fast to slow and back again, tripping up many of the 68 crews that started the day.
The afternoon was no less testing as temperatures soared in the Algarve hills. With much of the top layer cleared from the road after the first pass, in many places the road was worn down to the bedrock but the Pirelli Scorpion tyres stood up well.
Both Stobart drivers had good road position going into this morning's action, lying in seventh and ninth places overnight, and reaped the reward for this tactic as they moved up five places between them after the first stage of the day.
Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin had the perfect start as they moved into fifth overall after a superb run on the opening stage, the 22.61km SS8 Santa Clara 1. Wilson lost around ten seconds on SS10 Vascao 1 as the car stalled at a slow hairpin, but otherwise enjoyed another solid drive.
The young Briton, who is aiming to finish in fifth place for the second rally in a row, produced very consistent times over the same stages in the afternoon to preserve his position. Wilson performed outstandingly under pressure on the final day of the Cyprus Rally when he was grappling for position with Sebastien Ogier and will hope to pull off a similar feat tomorrow to keep his lead over his team mate.
Solberg and Cato Menkerud soared up the leaderboard in the morning moving from ninth to sixth despite having trouble finding a good rhythm on the tricky stages. The Norwegian equalled the time of his brother Petter on the opening stage of the day and on the longest stage of the rally, the 27.18km SS9 Almodovar 1 he was fifth fastest.
But Solberg really upped his tempo as he took a second pass at the stages this afternoon, improving significantly on his morning times on all three of the repeat runs and finishing fourth on the final stage of the day ahead of his brother and just four seconds behind Mikko Hirvonen.
Sibling rivalry could come to the fore tomorrow as Henning tries to maintain his one-point championship lead over Petter.
Tomorrow will see the drivers tackle another 79.97kms over five stages including the final Super Special stage back in the Algarve Stadium.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"We found the middle stage quite tough both times, the notes didn't just flow right in the fast sections and we were slightly slower through it than the other two stages in the loop. But it was great to move up a couple of places from yesterday, and we have had some good splits today. The stages are very tricky, more so than yesterday, but tomorrow's are more like day one and flow much better so I'm hoping that will help us. We didn't have any problems today apart from a stall at a hairpin corner when we ran slightly wide and the revs dropped. We lost around ten seconds there and that let Henning get a bit closer to us. It's great to see so many fans out on the stages, there really are some areas which are totally packed."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"I knew last night that my position would be an advantage for today and I was right. The car has felt good today and I think maybe I was a bit slower than it was; I was struggling to get the stages to flow and have a nice feeling with the car. But we have improved our overall position from yesterday and everything is feeling better, it's definitely going in the right direction. We have done some good times this afternoon and there's now less than a second between us and Matthew in fifth so that will definitely be a really good battle tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to it, for sure we will both be looking for the fifth place but it also means some good points for the Stobart team."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"We have seen another strong Stobart team performance today and both crews are in fantastic positions for tomorrow's stages. Matthew has put in a solid drive today and I think he has reached a competitive, consistent pace; he's really impressed me. Henning has gone much better, really picking up the pace from yesterday and he's looking good for the final day. If they can maintain these places then it's more decent points for the team."
Other rally news
Sebastien Loeb had a strong day moving up to the top of the standings but BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen is well-placed less than 30 seconds behind the World Champion and could benefit from better road conditions starting behind Loeb on day three. Former World Champion Marcus Gronholm and Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier was early casualties today, both going out on SS8 and sustaining too much damage to continue.