Event: Rally Mexico
HEALTHY POINTS HAUL FOR STOBART IN MEXICO
M-Sport Stobart Ford's Norwegian contingent of Mads Xstberg and Henning Solberg led the way at Rally Mexico this weekend after finishing fifth and sixth respectively, helping the team leave the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship with another healthy points haul.
The Cumbrian-based squad remain third in the FIA Manufacturers' Championship Standings, 11 points adrift of the Citroen Total World Rally Team in second.
Rally Sweden runner-up Mads Xstberg and Swedish co-driver Jonas Andersson had an unfortunate start when their Fiesta RS WRC suffered from a puncture in the rocky Sierra de Lobos mountains on Friday morning.
The 23-year-old lost approximately four minutes as a result of the puncture but a determined Xstberg moved up the WRC leaderboard from 11th at the end of the first day to finish his debut in Mexico fifth overall.
Henning Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor had a drama-filled weekend after suffering from power steering problems for the majority of Saturday's stages. A weary Solberg returned to the final service exhausted and with blistered hands but held seventh overnight. On Sunday morning, however, the M-Sport Stobart driver took advantage of Sebastien's Ogier crash to move up into sixth.
M-Sport Stobart debutant Evgeny Novikov was locked in a two-way battle for fourth place with Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala at the end of the first full day. Novikov's fifth place was a remarkable achievement considering the 20-year-old Russian had completed no testing in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC prior to Mexico.
However, disaster struck on Saturday morning when the engine of Novikov's Fiesta RS WRC overheated after the radiator lost its water supply due to a small impact. After analysing the data, Novikov's team decided that it would not be wise for the Russian to return to the rally under SupeRally regulations for Sunday's final leg.
Britain's Matthew Wilson was in a career-best fourth position on Friday afternoon but an electrical problem with his Ford Fiesta RS WRC caused the 24-year-old Cumbrian to retire on Stage 7. The car was returned to the service park in Leon on Friday evening where the M-Sport team worked hard to repair a damaged main wiring loom.
The team's incredible efforts enabled Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin to return to the second day of action at Rally Mexico under SupeRally regulations. However, their Fiesta RS WRC suffered further problems before the day's opening stage and the British duo were forced to call it a day.
Mads Xstberg said: "I didn't feel like taking any risks today, our result was more than we had hoped for. We gave away some positions after our puncture on Friday and we won some back today and yesterday so that is good. You cannot expect to come to a rally like this without much experience and to be at the top. The character of the roads was so changeable with some very different types of gravel. It is all about learning where you can push and how to drive on those types of conditions. We have come here to gain experience of every stage, to improve our pacenotes and to learn as much as we can for future years. We really didn't expect to finish this rally in this position so we are very happy."
Henning Solberg said: "I had a problem with my right brake cylinder this morning which I tried to repair for the power stage. This is how things go in rallying but we've managed to stay on the road. I tried my best just to finish and for sure, I have learned a lot about the car this weekend. We wanted to make a big push in the power stage and to go flat out but we will have to wait until Portugal now. We had to change the alternator belt on the road section to Stage 21 so we were late into the stage but everything else was OK. I'm glad to have finished in this position and it is a good result for the team."
Evgeny Novikov: "It was very disappointing to retire as it had been a very good rally for us until then. It has been a good weekend in terms of learning about the car and I am feeling more confident now for Italy. I think that will be a better rally for us. We had a small impact yesterday and unfortunately this effected the engine but these things happen and there was nothing we could have done. I really enjoyed myself and I've now got good experience in the car so that is very important."
Matthew Wilson said: "It's just not been my weekend. Everything was going so well for us on Friday -- we'd worked our way up to fourth and I was really happy with the car set-up. Then we had electrical problems on Stage 7. I was gutted but the team worked throughout the night to try and get the car back on the road for today. Then on the way to the first stage the engine kept cutting out and we knew there was nothing else that could be done. It's so disappointing but I'd really like to thank all the team for their efforts and hope that we can leave with a good result from Portugal next month."
M-Sport Stobart Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said: "There is little doubt that it has been a weekend of mixed fortunes for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team. Evgeny made a fantastic debut on Friday and we were very impressed with his mature driving approach -- some of the times he was setting were outstanding considering he had not even tested the car beforehand. Mads was very unlucky with the time he lost from Friday's puncture but he has done remarkably well to battle back and to finish fifth today, especially as it is his first time here. Henning has had a very difficult weekend -- he struggled yesterday with power steering problems but has proved that he is a very determined individual who will never give up. He thoroughly deserves his sixth place. Matthew showed huge potential this weekend and did very well to move up into the top five on Friday afternoon. It is a great shame that he was forced to retire but the stages here can be very demanding on the cars and despite the team's best efforts, we were unable to get him back on the road."