Stobart well placed after leg one

Stobart well placed after leg oneFrom Stobart Ford Press [ 22/05/2009 ].
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Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson overcame early problems to put themselves in a powerful position going into day two of Rally d’Italia Sardenga, the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. With tactical driving strongly in evidence on day one as crews jostled for the best position on Saturday’s rough, dusty stages, Solberg is lying in sixth place while Wilson ended the day in ninth.

Following the ceremonial start which attracted huge numbers of fans to the town hall in Olbia on Thursday night the rally got underway 70kms to the south-west of Service Park this morning with two loops of three stages. High temperatures meant that the roads were dusty while the hard, rocky base provided a big challenge for the 58 starters.

Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin had the worst possible start to their rally as they were struck by hydraulic problems less than a kilometre into the opening stage. The hydraulic failure meant that Wilson was forced to use the manual gear shift and lost a lot of the Ford Focus RS WRC’s handling as the centre diff was affected. The young Briton did well to keep his composure and make it through to the end of the morning loop but was trailing the leaders by nearly two minutes in 13th place.

However, the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team mechanics worked hard to fix the problem during the midday service and Wilson was able to push harder in the afternoon, picking up four places over the course of three stages to finish the day back inside the top ten and with good road position for day two.

After posting an excellent time in shakedown on Thursday, Solberg failed to find his rhythm during the early stages today and fell down the field behind young chargers Evgeny Novikov, Sebastien Ogier and Mads Ostberg. The team made some small changes to the set-up of the car before the second loop to try and improve grip and handling, and these paid off in the afternoon as the Norwegian and co-driver Cato Menkerud moved up the leaderboard.

A loose catch meant that Solberg lost his bonnet during SS5 Loelle 2. But despite the handling issues that this caused he still managed to post the fourth fastest time on the final stage of the day SS6 Crastazza 2 leaving him in a tactically strong sixth position going into Saturday’s stages.

With temperatures on the Mediterranean island soaring, the second pass of the stages was particularly hard on the tyres, but the Pirelli Scorpion rubber stood up well to the conditions.

Day two will present an extra challenge for the drivers as they face two completely new stages. SS7 Sa Linea which follows a disused railway line is expected to be very rough and rocky. From there the crews move on to the 22.02km Fiorentini through the forests of central Sardinia before tackling Monte Lerno, the longest stage of the rally. The Italian rally fans are expected to be out in force there to see one of the most famous jumps on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar.

With weather conditions expected to remain dry and hot throughout the whole weekend, dust will continue to be a problem while drivers’ concentration will be tested to the maximum as they contest 130.74kms of special stage action.

Other rally news
BP Ford Abu Dhabi drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen are leading the rally at the end of day one. Latvala holds a 39-second lead over his team mate who lies just ahead of Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb. The Frenchman slowed on the final stage of the day in order to gain better road position on day two. Petter Solberg showed good pace throughout day one and is fourth in his updated Citroen Xsara just ahead of Russian youngster Evegeny Novikov who rounds of the top five.

But it was a hard day for Loeb’s Citroen team mate Dani Sordo who picked up a time penalty after arriving late to SS1. Meanwhile Munchi’s Ford driver Federico Villagra is in danger of losing his 100 per cent points scoring record so far this season after suffering a mechanical failure on SS5.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It has been a difficult first day of the rally for us. Obviously we had our problems this morning when we lost hydraulic pressure and the paddle gear shift. That put us on the back foot. But everything went fine this afternoon on the second pass, although it was difficult on the last stage as the rough conditions affected the tyre wear and the car was moving around a lot. We also struggled to make pace notes on that stage during the recce so they weren’t precise enough. But we’re in a good road position for tomorrow. Those stages are also very difficult but we’ll just concentrate on having a good drive.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I am still trying to get the correct feeling with the car. There’s no major problem with it but I just don’t have full confidence at the moment. The stages are very difficult, narrow but fast, and you have to be committed and have a good feeling with the car to push hard on them. We changed the springs during the day which helped and we will also make some minor changes in service tonight. Nothing major but hopefully it will help me to push harder tomorrow.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It has been a difficult day for both Stobart crews today, but both cars are now in an ideal position to do well tomorrow, especially Henning. We have seen today that road position is quite important so hopefully it’ll help both crews to be starting where they are tomorrow. Matthew suffered some problems on the first three stages today but he put that behind him and had a strong finish to the day. Both crews are currently in the points and they’re in a prime position to build on a good start tomorrow.”

Leaderboard at end of day one
1. J-M Latvala/M Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus RS 1h24m14.5s
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen(FIN) Ford Focus RS +39.8s
3. S Loeb/D Elena (FRA) Citroën C4 +42.8s
4. P Solberg/P Mills (NOR) Citroën Xsara +46.4s
5. E Novikov/D Moscatt (RUS) Citroën C4 +1m04.7s
6. H Solberg/C Menkerud (NOR) Ford Focus RS +1m08.2s
7. Mads Ostberg/V Engen (NOR) Subaru Impreza +1m16.6s
8. D Sordo/M Marti (ESP) Citroën C4 +1m37.3s
9. M Wilson/S Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS +2m33.8s
10. K Al Qassimi/M Orr (UAE) Ford Focus RS +2.59.9s