The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team have stepped up a gear, winning two of the opening three stages of Rally dItalia Sardegna this morning and taking the early rally lead for the first time in the teams short history.
Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila showed phenomenal opening pace winning the opening 31.13 kilometre test by 6.7 seconds over BP-Fords Marcus Gronholm. This was the first time both Latvala and the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team have ever led a World Rally Championship event.
Continuing their form through the next two gravel stages, the Finnish pair stayed strong, entering Service A with the rally lead. This is the first time in 2007 a Manufacturer Team has taken the lead in a WRC event and for Latvala, his first ever stage win on a gravel surface.
Team-mates Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud also showed fantastic speed, demonstrating their increased confidence with the car, as they went on to set the fastest stage time on the 20.36 kilometre Monte Olia test.
After their Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 stalled twice on stage 1, the Norwegian pair battled back with commanding force, finishing the mornings loop of stages in fourth position overall.
Brits Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr battled some early gearbox troubles to hold eleventh position, just two seconds outside the top-ten. They lost time through all three stages as Wilson struggled to change gears cleanly; an electrical fault causing the problem.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
What an amazing feeling, leading a WRC event for the first time for both myself and the Stobart team; I could not have dreamt this would happen so soon. My car feels very good and the stages I drove this morning were so comfortable; it didnt feel that I was pushing but just concentrating on driving well. Okay I know that my road position was an advantage but I still had to use that advantage. I have to remember that that road was cleaning and for sure the rest of the guys will be coming much harder this afternoon when the conditions will be the same for all of us. I will try not to worry about them though; I will concentrate on driving my own rally rather than staying ahead of the more experienced drivers. If Im still ahead at the end of the day then it will be a bonus.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
Its coming, the feeling is coming. I have a much better feeling with the car now and it means I have more confidence also. The three stages this morning have been good for me and you can see that with my fastest time on stage 3. The car is working well and my pace-notes for the stages are good also. We made new pace-notes on the recce and Im very happy with them. The road was still quite slippery for us but I think it will be much cleaner for the second pass and hopefully we can keep the same pace this afternoon. But generally I am much happier with the car and my driving.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
It has been a really difficult morning. The gear problem started just one kilometre into the first stage and its continued for all three stages. I have had to lift off when changing gears instead of being able to use the normal system of flat-shifting. Obviously this has lost us some time but I am still confident that if we get it sorted, our times will be quite good this afternoon. The pace-notes seemed fine and the road will be cleaner and even with the problem we are still just outside the top ten at the moment. We just need to start the rally again this afternoon and concentrate on getting a few good stages in.