Final push puts Stobart back in the points in sunny Sardinia Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg put early set-backs behind them to earn a superb double-points finish at the sixth round of the FIA World Rally ...
Final push puts Stobart back in the points in sunny Sardinia
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg put early set-backs behind them to earn a superb double-points finish at the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally d'Italia Sardegna. Wilson produced another consistent performance to finish sixth overall while Solberg just missed out on seventh place despite a last-minute charge that saw him win two of the last three stages.
Following the ceremonial start on Thursday night outside the town hall in Olbia the 60 starters headed away from the coastal town inland towards the forests on Friday morning to tackle two three-stage loops covering 130kms. Conditions were hot and hard and proved a stern test for the Pirelli Scorpion control gravel tyres used by all the teams.
Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin suffered a hydraulic problem only a couple of kilometres from the start of SS1 forcing the young Brits to use manual gear shift throughout the morning stages. The centre diff of Wilson's Ford Focus RS WRC was also affected by this hydraulic leak, which caused adverse handling of his car. With the problem fixed by the Stobart mechanics during the midday service Wilson got back on the pace and started his climb up the leaderboard.
In the scorching conditions Solberg and Cato Menkerud failed to find their rhythm on the opening morning, but after making minor changes to the set-up throughout the day, the feeling in the car improved. However, the Norwegian lost his bonnet midway through the afternoon causing handling issues which hindered his progress, although he still finished the day well-placed in sixth.
Day two was possibly the hardest of the FIA World Rally Championship season so far as Rally d'Italia Sardegna's two new stages took their toll on the field with attrition rates high on the exceptionally rough roads. The rocky conditions got the better of Solberg on SS9 Monte Lerno as he suffered a puncture 6.8kms into the longest stage of the day. He made it to the end of the 29.13km test without stopping but lost valuable seconds on the crews in front.
And things went from bad to worse for Solberg in the afternoon as he slid off the road and damaged his suspension after misjudging the braking coming into a corner. But Wilson showed why he is building a reputation as one of the most reliable young drivers in the championship as he managed to steer clear of trouble and move his way through the field ending the second day in sixth place overall.
Day three saw markedly different weather conditions than on the previous two days of competition as damp clouds caused the dust kicked up on the stages to hang in the air creating visibility problems for all of the drivers. But Wilson coped well with any challenges thrown at him as he stayed on course to add to his tally in the drivers' championship, finishing two minutes behind Evgeny Novikov despite his Friday morning mechanical problems.
Meanwhile Solberg re-entered the rally this morning lying in tenth place with the aim of claiming manufacturer points for the Stobart team and hoping to move back up into the top eight and picking up a drivers' championship point; and a spectacular late charge saw him achieve exactly that. Finally happy with the set-up of his car, Solberg had Mads Ostberg in his sights and in a breath-taking finish he ended the rally trailing his young compatriot by less than a second.
Other rally news
It was an excellent day for the Ford teams as BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver Jari-Matti Latvala took his first victory of the season and a first victory for the team in 2009. And it was a double celebration as Mikko Hirvonen finished in second place, closing the gap on Sebastien Loeb in the drivers' championship. After losing time with a puncture on day two, Loeb recovered well to overhaul Petter Solberg on the final day and claim third place but that place was revoked after the rally finished as he was handed a two-minute time penalty for infringing seatbelt regulations immediately before that tyre change.
Solberg was enjoying his first outing in his updated Citroen Xsara despite failing to hold off fast-charging Loeb on Sunday, but he earned his second podium of the season. Citroen Junior driver Evgeny Novikov completed an impressive performance to finish in fifth place, a career best finish for the young Russian.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"After our problems on the first day this result is probably better than we could have expected. It was difficult today as we ended up with a big gap to the crews ahead and behind us so we haven't been in a battle. It is hard not having anyone to fight against as it's difficult to judge your pace. Obviously to finish in the points is exactly what we were after. We had some encouraging stages but there were some where our notes weren't good enough. That's an area we need to work on for the future."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"We were pushing like mad on the last stage but unfortunately it just wasn't enough to gain another place. I feel really positive though as we made big improvements on the car and it felt the best that it has ever felt on the stages today. I think that my two fastest times showed that. It has been a really hard rally and our championship hopes took a bit of a knock but I just wanted to go out and get a good time today and that's what I did."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"We've seen another solid points scoring finish for the Stobart team which is particularly impressive considering the difficult circumstances both crews encountered over the course of the rally. It's a real shame that Henning lost out on an extra point by less than a second. But Matthew has put in another solid drive and did well to stay out of trouble. His experience of the stages and the conditions really helped this weekend."
Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
"Matthew has again impressed me and continued to stand strong and score points when even the best drivers in the world were having problems. His long term plan to gather experience and finish rallies is really paying off and is proving to be the way forward. It's a pity Henning lost out on another place but he showed that when he needs to push, he has the talent and drive to score some fastest times."