M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team press release
Norwegian Ace Leads Stobart Challenge Down Under
M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team’s Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson have battled through a rain-soaked opening day at Rally Australia to finish fourth and fifth respectively in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Coffs Harbour is host to the tenth round of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship and after several days of beautiful sunshine, the first full day of WRC action was uncharacteristically wet. The rain-drenched roads made the repeat loop of three stages and two Super Special Stages totalling 116 km extremely slippery and the drivers struggled with the constant change of grip throughout the day.
Despite incredibly difficult road conditions, Solberg and Austrian co-driver Ilka Minor set three top five stage times during the repeat afternoon loop set west of Coffs Harbour. This was followed by a second fastest stage time on the day’s closing Super Special Stage.
Solberg’s consistent pace in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC meant that at the end of Stage 10, the Norwegian was sitting fourth overall and hungry for a podium spot.
Matthew Wilson reported that today’s road conditions were some of the most difficult he had encountered but the 24-year-old took the challenge in his stride and went on to deliver five top five stage times. Wilson and fellow countryman Scott Martin lie fifth overnight.
Despite suffering a clear disadvantage by running further down the field on the slippery roads, team-mate Evgeny Novikov was on flying form during today’s opening tests. The Russian driver - who will celebrate his 21st birthday later this month - proved his ability behind the wheel of a World Rally Car by setting the second fastest time on Stage 6.
Stage 7, however, proved troublesome for Novikov who hit a rock 2 km into the test and caused the M-Sport Stobart team-mate to retire for the day. It is expected that the young driver will return under SupeRally regulations for the second day of action tomorrow.
Henning Solberg said:
“I am smiling - I have had a good day and I am hungry to finish on the podium now. For sure, we have not been without problems today but I know that everybody has had issues so it was not just me. I have to say that it is dangerous driving on the stages in these road conditions – it’s very slippery and the trees are some of the biggest I’ve seen so the smallest mistake can mean you could be out the rally. My side window started to fall out on Stage 6 so we lost a bit of time there but we tightened it up before the next stage so it was fine. Now I hope that the rain will clear tomorrow - it is just too difficult to push in these types of conditions.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“You know it’s been a tough day when Sebastien [Loeb] retires as that very rarely happens. We’re just glad to have made it through relatively unscathed, especially after so many of the other drivers had problems. The roads today were both slippery and the grip was constantly changing, the conditions were some of the most difficult I have ever come across in the WRC. Tomorrow’s stages won’t be as affected as they have been today, they’re more gravel-based and more out in the open so we should find a lot more grip than we did today. From the recce, I think tomorrow will be the most enjoyable so I’m glad to have got through a difficult time today and can’t wait to start on tomorrow’s stages.”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“Everything was fine this morning. We had no problems with the car but the stages were slippery so we weren’t trying to push. This afternoon seemed more level for all the drivers – this morning the conditions were difficult as we were running further behind the others. Then we hit a rock about one and a half km into Stage 7. There was so mud that we just couldn’t get it back out and I think we had broken the steering arm too. The damage wasn’t as bad as it had been at Shakedown so I think we will be fine to restart tomorrow.”