Henning leads Stobart charge

Henning leads Stobart chargeFrom Ford Press [ 30/05/2008 ].
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The opening day of the Acropolis Rally of Greece has served the Stobart VK-Sport Ford rally team with mixed fortunes as Norwegians Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud lead the way in fourth position. Team-mates Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin pushed through some early issues to bounce back to 12th with a string of top-eight stage times.




It was not so fortunate for team-mates Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini who retired this morning after a speedy start from the Italian crew. Just over 12 kilometres into stage 2 on a fast left hand corner they hit a large rock in the middle of the road which was pulled out by another competitor.

This immediately broke the front right track control arm in the suspension and this in turn damaged the driveshaft. After inspection from the FIA, Galli’s Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 was deemed safe to return tomorrow under SupeRally regulations.

Solberg’s effort today was near perfect as he drove an intelligent race to be right in the hunt for a podium finish. The only trouble for the Norwegian came on stage 3 when he overshot two junctions coming into hairpins at high speed. He will look to continue this pace tomorrow as he currently lies in a battle with brother Petter for third position.

The only major issue for Wilson was a broken propshaft, with three kilometres of stage 3 left to go, which lost the youngster around 40 seconds and a couple of places on the leaderboard. Fortunately his team of Stobart technicians, spearheaded by Engineer Ross Sutherland, swarmed upon the car in service and put in a sterling effort to restore the car to its full glory enabling Wilson to return to this afternoon’s repeat loop of stages.

Unfortunately for the 21-year-old he incurred a 10 second penalty for arriving one minute late to stage 5 start after having to stop on the road section to change a puncture on his Focus RS after the 11.57 kilometre Schimatari 2 test. He also received a 10 second penalty for a jump start on stage 5. The rock-littered stages on this event were forecast to be the Pirelli Scorpion tyre’s sternest test yet and, so far, it is proving to be on top of the tough conditions.

Last night the ceremonial start returned to the foothill of the Acropolis after a five year absence from the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thousands of devoted rally fans packed the centre of Athens to see their favourite rally stars at an autograph session before crews crossed over the start-ramp.

Today was the shortest of the event covering 110.08 kilometres of competitive action over two loops of three identical stages followed by the first of two passes over the 4.6 kilometre Tatoi super special. Tomorrow’s leg will see three stages all run twice including the 32.16 kilometre Aghii Theodori, the longest stage of the Acropolis event.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
“The first stage didn’t start off so well as we had a small spin after just one kilometre and the rest of the stage just didn’t flow; I was driving too fast and was sideways in too many places. Then the second stage was much better, more neat and the split times up until my problem were great. I think we were fastest to that point. Then we hit a big rock which had been dragged out into the middle of the road and it broke the front suspension and we could go no further. This was disappointing for me as I wanted to get a good start to this rally.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“We had a good feeling with the car all morning and it is staying strong in these tough conditions. The stages are not as rough as I thought they were going to be but it is extremely hot in the car so I am just trying my best to concentrate on my driving. The exception to this was stage 6, it was incredible, and the roads were right down to bedrock. I had to back off so as not to damage the car. We lost some time but it was definitely the right decision as some of the others had problems and now we have moved up to fourth position.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“The first stage was very technical so I just tried to stay neat and this worked because we set a good time. However the third stage was totally the opposite, we had two overshoots, first at a hairpin and then second at a slow corner when I tried to avoid a big rock and we stalled the engine. Then with three kilometres to go the prop-shaft broke and we just had to cruise to the end of the stage. But the mechanics did a great job in service to get everything fixed and good as new. Stage 6 though was very rough and we backed off as there was no point causing any more damage to the car.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s been a great performance and a clever drive by Henning today and it’s probably one of his best runs on an opening day of a rally for a long while. He has used his head in the rough conditions and knows when to push and when to back off. Now he’s in a great position for tomorrow. Matthew has also being going well and done a great job to get close to the top ten after his mechanical problem this morning. Unfortunately it hasn’t been a good day for Gigi but, as we saw in Sardinia, he has the ability to come back and punch in some fastest times on day 2.”