Stobart stay secure on stormy Saturday stages Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson produced a solid performance on the toughest day so far of Rally GB to stay in the points going into the final day of this year's FIA World Rally Championship. The...
Stobart stay secure on stormy Saturday stages
Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson produced a solid performance on the toughest day so far of Rally GB to stay in the points going into the final day of this year's FIA World Rally Championship. The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers held their ground despite the foul weather conditions that battered the Welsh hillsides and created rain-soaked slippery roads, to end Day 2 in sixth and seventh place.
The 61 crews headed to the north of Rally HQ in Cardiff this morning to take on the longest day of the rally at 138.16kms, made up of two passes over three more classic Welsh stages. Following on from yesterday's changeable conditions, the Great British weather continued to assault the crews, with heavy rain and high winds featuring throughout the day, making the fast gravel roads particularly treacherous.
The Stobart technicians had worked hard overnight to prepare the Ford Focus RS WRCs for today's action after a series of problems that had hit both Solberg and Wilson on Friday.
Solberg put his engine misfire problems behind him today as he aimed to chase down Sebastien Ogier and put pressure on his brother Petter in the overall championship standings. But the Norwegian and co-driver Cato Menkerud found it hard to stay on the pace of the Frenchman early on and were hit badly on the final stage of the morning's three-stage loop as their windscreen wipers struggled to cope with the constant barrage of mud and rain.
He continued to push in the afternoon, matching the pace of Ogier on SS11, but struggled to find consistency in the water-logged conditions and slipped back again on the final stage of the day.
Wilson had struggled with traction problems on Day 1 which affected his pace, but the young Brit was able to begin rebuilding his rhythm and confidence this morning after having those issues fixed by the team overnight. The slippery roads caused problems for Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin as their Ford Focus RS WRC was pushed offline by standing water, but they maintained their advantage over eighth-place Jari-Matti Latvala in the morning.
Though weather conditions improved in the afternoon, the stages remained wet and hazardous and provided a real test for the Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyres. Wilson lost time at the start of SS11 finding it hard to judge the pace on the extremely slippery roads, made even more difficult on the second pass. Handling problems after a tight hairpin on the final stage of the day led the crew to believe that they had picked up a puncture, but they made it to the end of the leg.
Steve Perez was also hit by wiper problems on the first stage of the morning, but he managed to make minor repairs on the road which have enabled him to get through the morning stages in 14th place.
Team sponsor Perez, thrived in the tricky conditions during the afternoon holding his position going into the final day.
The thrilling last day of the rally will provide a real challenge, with crews tackling nearly 80kms of stages without any opportunity for service. They are based closer to the Cardiff Bay Service Park in South Wales and include two passes through the famous Walter's Arena section in Rheola Forest before the drivers reach the podium in Cardiff Bay.
Other rally news
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb took a giant step towards retaining his title as he stretched his lead over title challenger Mikko Hirvonen to over 30 seconds at the end of the day. BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Hirvonen has four stages tomorrow to try and close the gap and keep his hopes of taking a first drivers' title alive.
Petter Solberg slipped back to fourth place after suffering a wiper problem this morning handing third back to Dani Sordo. Meanwhile another Citroen, the C4 of Ogier, remained steady in fifth place.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"The car has been much better than yesterday, the data didn't show a problem but I knew that something was wrong with the traction and the guys did a fantastic job to get the car fixed overnight. The rain this morning made the first stage treacherous, it's been some of the most difficult conditions I've ever experienced. The car was feeling great until the final stage of the day when we went round a hairpin left and went wide, after that it was moving all around at the rear."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"The car has been working very well today so I am happy with that and I am having fun in the car. I am doing my best and that's all I can ask. We had a really good run through the long stage this afternoon and we were only 22 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb. The car felt good and I was driving well. But after that we could hear a knocking noise coming from the front right corner of the car and the last two stages didn't really feel as good. We will get the team to look at the car tonight and get it fixed because it needs to be perfect for tomorrow."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"It's been a much improved performance by both guys today after a huge effort by the Stobart team mechanics last night to solve the problems on both cars. They have been more competitive today in some very tough conditions, but due to the pace in this event have been unable to make up any positions. They are well placed for tomorrow and with 80km without service, the final day will definitely provide a sting in the tail."