The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team are sitting strong with both Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud and Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila in top ten positions after leg 1. Solberg finished the opening leg lurking around a podium position in fourth while Latvala drove a sensible day finishing a respectable tenth.
Latvala was sitting in seventh position, after the 11.32 kilometre long Hara 2 stage, until spinning in a narrow section near the start of stage seven losing him nearly one minute and knocking the Finn back to tenth. All three Stobart drivers did extremely well to finish the day with the Uddeholm Swedish Rally claiming several top crews.
Leg one proved to be unpredictable for teams with mild weather topping the list in a truly eventful day. Unlike previous years, a solid layer of ice under the snowy surface used to generate grip through tungsten-tipped steel studs, was almost non-existent as road conditions played havoc with competitors tyres. Exposed gravel and rutted roads shredded tyres of their studs leaving crews with limited control on the extremely fast winter surface.
Overnight snow-falls meant too much on the roads for drivers in the morning, but a lack of snow in the afternoon exposed ruts and gravel making the changing conditions dangerously unpredictable.
Solberg was full of enthusiasm throughout the day putting together a consistent leg finishing as high as second on stage three and no lower than sixth on the rest. After two moments on Likenas 1, Solberg showed huge improvement as the day progressed, beginning to gel with the Ford Focus RS 06 for the first time this year. The Norwegian will go into tomorrows stages full of confidence with only 5.3 seconds separating him from brother Petter in third.
With considerable experience on snow, Latvala showed pace over the day but admitted he still had some rhythm to find on Swedens testing surface. Apart from his spin on the 24.63 kilometre Vargasen test and a run-in with a snow bank on stage two, the Finn came through the day happy to finish and have snow miles under his belt in the new car.
The British crew of Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr finished the day in 16th position with a fairly clean run. Like many competitors, Wilson battled the rough stage conditions, as he gained experience on his second attempt at a snow event. Apart from a partially fogged windscreen impeding his view in stage two, he pushed through the days stages gaining advantageous rally miles.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
It has been really difficult because the conditions have been changing all the time. Theres a lot of ruts out there and youre always in and out of them which takes its toll on the tyres. Last year was much easier because of the amount of grip you could get from the ice but its a whole new way of driving this year. The windscreen was quite bad, I couldnt see on the right-handers but it got better at the end. We could probably do with a bit more ice so the studs can really bite down into it and get the grip were after.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
It has been ok but I had a spin and had to do some three point turns which lost me about 40 seconds. My driving feels like it is about 95% but Im just missing that last 5% so I think my times can probably improve. The conditions are difficult because sometimes there is too much snow which makes it hard to hold your line and see the corners properly. I will keep trying tomorrow but I want to make sure I finish the rally also.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
Everything is ok, Ive just been learning the car on these corners but I really like the Focus. It was very very difficult today. I was off the road a couple of times this morning so I did not push too hard. I am having lots of fun. After service we made some small changes and I really started to get a better feel for the car so tomorrow we will try it step by step again. I have not pushed yet I promise you, I have a lot more to go!
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
Henning is driving really well, he is happy with the car and the times he set today have been very impressive. He seems to be having a super fight with his brother. Jari-Matti has had a good day as well and you can tell that hes got quite a bit of experience and confidence on this surface. Matthews run today was good also. Hes a bit frustrated with things and hopes to improve tomorrow. All three cars have run well with no problems which is good to see.