Latvala and Solberg in the top 10

Latvala and Solberg in the top 10From Ford Press [ 12/10/2007 ].
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Round 13 of the FIA World Rally Championship kicked off this morning as crews headed out to tackle the notoriously testing roads of Rallye de France – Tour de Corse. By the end of today’s leg the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team has both its nominated points-scoring crews inside the top-ten and both in manufacturer point positions.

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila lead the way in sixth just seconds off a further position with Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud in tenth and team-mates Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr a few places outside the top-ten in 13th overall.

The opening leg of Rallye de France was another day of close battles throughout the leaderboard as competitors tackled six stages of winding Mediterranean rally contest. The structure for today saw two mirrored loops, one of which was competitively incomplete as the opening stage of the rally was cancelled due to spectator issues.

The cancellation of stage 1 meant crews had a reduced 106 kilometres of competitive mileage to cover. Stages ran to the south of Rally Headquarters in Ajaccio through the mountainous Alta Rocca region.

Rain threatened the final 27 kilometre Arbellara – Aullene test but fortunately for WRC competitors it held off. This could mean overnight showers, however, which would make conditions very difficult for tomorrow’s second leg.

For the Finnish youngster it was another matured drive on this opening day; his sixth place helped along by two top-four stage times in the afternoon’s loop of stages. Latvala continues to impress for the Stobart team further showcasing his talent in Corsica on a surface rather unfamiliar to the 22-year-old. He heads into tomorrow’s stages just eight seconds behind fourth placed Françios Duval.

Solberg is again adapting to sealed surface racing putting in a solid day’s rallying to occupy tenth spot overnight. While some of his times have been slightly off the pace, the Norwegian has been learning more about the car and its total ability on asphalt, every competitive metre he drives. His tenth place on the leaderboard, ahead of Manfred Stohl, currently gives the Stobart team the final Manufacturers’ Championship point position.

It’s been a challenging day for young British driver Wilson. At times he displayed exceptional speed with split times close to the top of the field while on other occasions struggled to find confidence especially in the more narrow sections. However, the 20-year-old has achieved his goal of completing each stage unscathed and sits less than 30 seconds off a top-ten spot.

Tomorrow is set to be another action-packed WRC outing through narrow, twisty roads described by crews as more abrasive than today’s roads. Teams will have another early morning start tomorrow with first car due into service at 08:10 before crews head out for 123 kilometres of rally action over six special stages.

The fourth Stobart VK entered car was that of Alessandro Bettega/Simone Scattolin who were well inside the top-ten but retired on stage 5 after sliding off the road, becoming beached and unable to re-join.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“Our tyres worked really well this afternoon and we tried to push on a bit harder than this morning. We still have a lot of things to learn about this rally especially with the braking points and car setup but it is my first time at this event and to finish the first day inside the top-ten is not so bad. I’m keen to get as much experience from this event as possible and so I can’t make any stupid mistakes and throw away the chance. The stages are tricky in places and I’m not planning to do anything stupid. My pace notes are too slow in some places so we are losing time there and also I think the narrow roads are better for us; it is the wider, fast sections where we are dropping time.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
“I’m very happy with the first day here, everything has been really good. The car is working well and the setup I have now is nearly perfect. Every tyre choice we have made today has been perfect also and the choices have given me confidence to push harder. I have been concentrating today on improving my driving and this has been working and now my confidence is quite high. However, I still must be careful as I nearly got caught out on some gravel today, it was on the exit of a corner and we were very sideways, I was lucky to get away with it. Overall I have been pleased with my start today and hopefully we can improve tomorrow and move up a couple of places.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“This morning we struggled on the narrow sections of road but the car felt really good on the fast wide roads and my times were very good there. Today’s roads were half bumpy and half smooth so we had to compromise on setup but tomorrow is nearly all bumpy and narrow so I think we will make some changes to the suspension tonight. I thought I drove better on the narrow roads on the second pass this afternoon but unfortunately the times did not reflect this. The tyres worked well as all our choices today were correct.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s been another great day for the Stobart team to get the two cars in points scoring positions. Jari has had another sensible, solid drive and is now in a close battle for fourth place, hopefully tomorrow we can see him make up a place or two. Both Henning and Matthew have upped their pace from Spain also and haven’t made any mistakes today at all. I’m sure they will settle in tomorrow and improve even more.”

Leg 1 Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen C4 59m 29.7sec
2. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS +4.8sec
3. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen C4 +18.5sec
4. F Duval/P Pivato B Citroen Xsara +57.8sec
5. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +1m03.1sec
6. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS +1m06.4sec
7. C Atkinson/S Prevot AUS Subaru Impreza +1m20.6sec
8. X Pons/X Amigo E Subaru Impreza +1m58.0sec
9. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia +2m47.4sec
10. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +3m35.7sec
13. M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS +4m03.2sec