Latvala's early lead fades in the Sardinian sun It was an historical start for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team today as both the team and its Finnish crew of Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila led a World Rally Championship event for the...
Latvala's early lead fades in the Sardinian sun
It was an historical start for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team today as both the team and its Finnish crew of Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila led a World Rally Championship event for the first time. Latvala blitzed the more experienced opposition on the opening test, claiming his first stage win on a gravel surface; he held the lead coming into the event's first service in Olbia after three stages.
However disaster struck on the second pass over the Terranova test. Just three kilometres into the stage their car collided with a large rock on the inside of a corner, breaking the front left track control arm on the suspension and forcing the rally leaders into instant retirement from leg 1 action.
It was a cruel blow for the up-and-coming Finnish star, showing pace that could have led to his first WRC podium. The team are currently correcting the damaged vehicle and re-preparing the car for tomorrow's action as the crew re-start under the SupeRally regulations.
Norwegian sensation Henning Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud have driven a superb opening leg of Rally d'Italia Sardegna to finish the day in fourth position, just 3.8 seconds behind BP-Ford's Mikko Hirvonen. Team-mates Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr stayed in the hunt all day, despite early gear selection problems, climbing into the top ten with some impressive closing stage times; ending the day in ninth just one place short of a points scoring position.
The team's current third placing in the Manufacturers' Championship is further strengthened with Solberg's performance as he remains ahead of rival manufacturers; keeping the Stobart team on top of the more experienced outfits.
Today's stages ran through the Nuoro region, south of Rally Headquarters in Olbia, over a surface of sandy gravel on top of a hard rocky base. These included the longest of the event, the 31.13 kilometre Crastazza stage, which was run twice in today's competition over ground temperatures as high as 32 degrees.
Road position played a key role in the opening few tests as front runners had to contend with sweeping the loose, sandy covering, making traction and grip a big issue in the morning. In addition, rocks line the roadside ready to catch out the unwary or the over-brave.
After a slow start due to his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 stalling twice on the opening test, Solberg turned up the Sardinian heat finishing the next five stages all with top five times. This effort included a third fastest time on stage 2 and the quickest on stage 3.
The open loop proved quite misfortunate for Wilson who battled minor gear-change problems, resulting in him being unable to use the normal flat shift method. With the fault diagnosed and rectified in service the 20-year-old came out firing in the afternoon; finishing the closing two tests and the day's leg in ninth.
Tomorrow sees 142.27 kilometres over six special stages run to the south east of Olbia. If the current weather conditions remain, crews will be meet with relatively high summer temperatures which can be physically demanding on drivers and theirr BF Goodrich g-Force gravel tyres.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
"What a day. It was an absolutely amazing feeling to be leading my first WRC event. I know that I had an advantage with my road position but I was very happy with my driving and the car. Even over the second pass when the road conditions were the same for everyone, my times were still up there in the top three. It was all feeling good and coming together really well. Then on stage 5 on a left hand corner I hit a rock on the inside. I remember from the first pass I was a bit wide so I tried to keep the car in some more. I felt the rock and immediately the track control arm broke and we were forced to stop. I can't believe it; I wasn't pushing and it was all feeling really comfortable with the car and the pace-notes."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"This is definitely my best day in the World Rally Championship, ever! I am really starting to feel comfortable with the car and more confident. The car has always been good, I knew that, but now it is starting to feel good for me and starting to fit my driving style. The surface was still very slippery on the second pass especially under braking for slow corners; and there were a few times we were slightly wide and untidy. It is very easy to make a mistake, some places in the stage are fast with heavy braking and there are many rocks at the side of the road ready to get you. Tomorrow should be good and I think I will make some small changes to try and make the good feeling even better."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It's a pity we had the problem with the gear change this morning as this afternoon's stages went quite well. Basically I had to lift off the throttle every time I went to change gears resulting in the obvious loss of time. It also meant that I wasn't concentrating fully on the pace-notes and it was just a difficult morning. The second loop of stages were good, however, we took no chances but still pushed on quite a bit and drove well to the pace-notes; they were working better than before. The tyres were going off on the last stage and braking for some corners was very slippery; but the grip was actually quite good in other sections of the stage. I'm looking forward to the roads tomorrow as I'm more familiar with them from last year."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"It's a long time since a private team have been leading a WRC event outright and today's performance by both Jari-Matti and the whole Stobart team has been fantastic. What happened with Jari-Matti was such a shame, but it was a difficult stage and claimed a couple of the other top drivers as well; but boy was he going well this morning! Henning's pace has impressed me also, with a fastest time on the third stage and now sitting in fourth place; his confidence in the car is really showing now. It has probably also been one of Matthew's best days in the WRC. He had some early problems in the morning but his performance in the afternoon was great and he was clearly on the pace of much more experienced drivers."
- credit: stobart motorsport