Henning finishes 5th in Finland

Henning finishes 5th in FinlandFrom Stobart Ford Press [ 03/08/2008 ].
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Round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship has seen an event of mixed fortunes for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team this weekend. Topping the Neste Oil Rally Finland time-sheets for the team was Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud who finished in a solid fifth position overall.

Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin cruised into the finish ramp this afternoon as the next best placed Stobart crew just one spot adrift a point scoring position in ninth.

Unfortunately for team-mates Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini their rally ended in a high speed accident after rolling at 14.3 kilometres into stage 16 - Kakeristo 1 - after slightly misjudging the pace of the road. The same section where the Italians rolled also claimed two other crews including fellow WRC competitor P G Andersson.

With their Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 heavily damaged during the incident the pair were unable to restart the event and therefore retired from Rally Finland. Both Galli and Bernacchini were uninjured during the high-speed accident.

Solberg’s great effort was not without troubles however when he experienced problems with the setup of his rear suspension due to heavy landings on both passes of the Surkee stage on Friday. The Norwegian also picked up a 10 second penalty on Saturday after a mechanically-induced jump-start on the 20.09 kilometre Kakaristo 1 test.

Without much practice in his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 over the summer break, 21-year-old Wilson struggled early on to find the right confidence on this ultra-fast event. As the event rolled on so did the confidence as the youngster began setting some firm stage times and making full use of his soft compound Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyres on these high speed tests. This build in confidence was prevalent when he posted an amazing fourth fastest time on the 10.92 kilometre Hannula stage - three seconds quicker than rally leader Sébastien Loeb.

This spectacular event again did not disappoint as crews blasted over 340.42 kilometres of competitive stage distance to the delight of the tens of thousands who flock to the Jyväskylä-based event for one of the all-time greats in the WRC.

In contrast to yesterday, which saw a mammoth 168.25 kilometre long day over 10 special stages, today’s final leg was fairly mild at just 40.47 kilometres covering three tests. Today also blessed crews with clear blue skies and warmer temperatures after an unfamiliar down-pour on Friday morning; throwing a spanner in the works for crews running down the order who generally benefit in the dryer conditions.

The next event for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team takes the squad to Germany for ADAC Rallye Deutschland. For this round the team will be rejoined by Belgian François Duval who will join Galli as the second nominated point scoring driver.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
“It has been a bitterly disappointing end to the rally here for me. I was just trying to keep our position against Sordo and the accident happened on a tricky left hand corner. My pace notes were slightly out and I ended up sliding into the ditch which then caused the car to roll at high speed into the trees. The car is quite badly damaged and it was obviously a corner that caught out people as two other cars went off in the same place as me. We had got into a good rhythm and found a sensible speed and feeling with the car so I don’t think I was pushing too hard on the stage.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“We started the rally off really well and it was good to be on the podium after the first day. The car was working well and it was a fine performance as we had no pre-event testing so I had showed a fast pace right from the start. But we lost the feeling on day 2 and had to settle for fifth position which isn’t too bad and at least it’s some more points; moving me up to seventh in the championship. We got new Expert race suits for this rally so we may not have been the fastest crew but we were definitely the best looking!”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“This is a really tough rally and we have moved forward with some important setting changes for when the rally comes back here. This event is all about experience and finishing today has certainly helped that. It’s easy to go fast in some places but you need the experience and the confidence to go fast everywhere. Saturday was tough and it caught many people out so it was good to survive and take these positives to Rally New Zealand.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s great to have two Stobart cars in the top-10 of this specialised event. Henning showed really good pace on day 1 but unfortunately lost his rhythm on the second day. But to his credit he still scored a very strong fifth place on one of the fastest events in the WRC. Matthew has put in a really solid performance in terms of learning the event and getting the experience and he hasn’t made any mistakes. Some of his splits were really impressive and he showed some great pace on the final day when his confidence was higher. All three crews can take a lot from this event to New Zealand where the setup and conditions are very similar.”

Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
“It’s certainly been a mixed rally for the Stobart team but Henning and Gigi showed some great pace to be in the top-three at different points during the rally and we have come away with some important points for the team. Matthew upheld British honour with a solid top-10 in what was one of the most challenging events of the calendar and his times improved greatly over the weekend.”

Final Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroën C4 2h54m05.5s
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +9.0s
3. C Atkinson/S Prevot AUS Subaru Impreza +3m17.0s
4. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroën C4 +3m30.9s
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +3m57.7s
6. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +4m04.1s
7. M Rantanen/J Löengren FIN Ford Focus RS +6m11.1s
8. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen FIN Suzuki SX4 +8m18.7s
9. M Wilson/S Martin GB Ford Focus RS +8m37.3s