From Ford Press [ 31/08/2007 ].
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All three Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team crews have finished inside the top-ten after day 1 of Rally New Zealand, round eleven of the FIA World Rally Championship. Charging on were Finns Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila who currently occupy fifth position.
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud showed improved pace over the day to finish in eighth spot while Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr brushed off earlier hiccups to nestle themselves into tenth place.
Today's leg took crews over four fast-flowing stages to the south of Rally HQ followed by a lap of the 3.14-kilometre Mystery Creek super special before the final 45 minute flexi-service this evening. Leg 1's 127 kilometres of competitive distance included the monster Waitomo test which at 43.88 kilometres in length is the longest of the event.
Overnight rain kept the loose gravel moulded to the hard-base surface, benefiting front-runners but causing extremely slippery conditions for those running further down the order. The day's weather was rather unfamiliar to typical Rally New Zealand traditions offering drivers constant sunshine and fairly clear skies.
Twenty-two-year-old Latvala began well, but admitted his tyre choice was not the correct one, coming into lunchtime service apprehensive of the slippery morning conditions.
The Finn looked to 'tidy up' his typically flamboyant driving style for the second loop of stages, concerned he was probably too sideways this morning which was losing him time to the top-placed drivers.
Solberg collected a double puncture on the opening test after bouncing off a bank and had to run the second stage with the rear puncture in place. After electing not to take a cut in his tyre this morning, which he felt cost him valuable seconds especially over the long second stage, the Norwegian ran with a medium-soft gravel tyre with a half cut for the second pass.
The decision proved to be a wise one as Solberg set far better times over the afternoon stages, improving on his placing, to move into the final drivers' points-scoring position.
The UK's only full-time WRC driver, Wilson, didn't have the best of starts when, on the first stage, he was thrown off a left-hand corner damaging the front of his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06. Fortunately the damage was mainly cosmetic but as a result the bonnet pins became dislodged which caused the bonnet to flap up and down on fast sections of stage 2.
With the help of his Stobart team the car was fully restored in service as he took to the afternoon stages improving on his pace to finish the final two tests with top ten times.
Tomorrow's stages cover 130 kilometres to the north east of Rally New Zealand's Mystery Creek headquarters, as far north as Port Waikato before heading further south around the Raglan Harbour region.
"The stages have been very difficult for me today and my feeling and confidence with the car has not gone well. I am finding it difficult with the steering and that means that I cannot push as hard as I would like. Tomorrow's stages are better fun to drive so hopefully we will make some changes in service tonight that will improve my feeling with the car for tomorrow. If things improve tomorrow I will try and increase my speed and pace throughout the day."
"I have had a few small problems today but generally we have improved during the stages this afternoon. I was a bit disappointed with stage 4, things were going well at the start but towards the end of the stage, when the tyres were getting older, I drove too fast and was too aggressive and lost some time. About four kilometres from the end of that stage I turned into a corner too early and clipped a bank which ripped our front bumper off; but we didn't lose any time."
"It hasn't been the best of starts for me, the car was understeering quite a lot this morning which caused us to go off the road through a fence breaking the bonnet pins and from then on the bonnet kept flapping up on fast sections and we had to back off. We made some changes to the car and it felt better on the stages this afternoon. I'm in a good position for tomorrow, I knew today would be difficult but I'm confident that I will go better on the Saturday and Sunday stages."
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson
"It's been a good first day for the team and it's great to see all three cars inside the top ten. There have been no mechanical problems with any of the cars and the guys have driven well in what has proved to be a difficult opening day of this rally. It's been a solid performance today and a good base to build upon for tomorrow."