Mirroring their performance in Sardinia earlier this year, Finns Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila led the pack after stage 2 of Neste Oil Rally Finland, round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship. Regrettably for the pair a slight ‘off’ on the following stage resulted in their Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 getting stuck in a ditch costing them two crucial minutes as they tried franticly to rejoin the road.
This left team-mates Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud to lead the way for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team finishing leg 1 in seventh position. Third team crew, Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr drove a consistent rally, heading into overnight Parc Fermé in 15th position.
Twenty-five WRC cars began this morning’s Vellipohja test under dry but overcast conditions ahead of 131 kilometres of high-speed rally action. Road conditions were almost perfect as competitors took flight over the huge jumps which Finland has become synonymous for over its fruitful history.
Competition took crews to north and east of Jyväskylä into the fast flowing Finnish forestry roads. As usual spectator numbers were at peak levels supporting the massive number of local and international entries present at this event.
Unfortunately for Latvala it just wasn’t the local’s day when on stage 7, Palsankylä 2, the Finn was forced to retire not only from the leg but from the event itself. A small stone on a fast left-hand corner hit the sump of his Focus RS, unsettling the car, forcing it into a ditch and then slamming the rear-right into a bank and breaking the wishbone. As a result, some damage to the safety roll cage was incurred and the 22-year-old will now have to watch from the sidelines after such a fairytale start.
Solberg began cautiously after two months out of the car on a gravel surface. Two punctures in the early stages forced him to take precaution but after the cobwebs were dusted he took to the afternoon’s tests and was in a fierce battle for sixth with Dani Sordo. On stage 8 Solberg took the advantage jumping to sixth but the loss of power steering eight kilometres into stage 10 saw the Norwegian back to seventh. Heading into tomorrow’s leg he will look to re-spark the battle as he lies just 10.2 seconds behind the Spaniard.
Twenty-year-old Wilson also began cautiously this morning after a puncture on the opening stage followed by an overshoot on the 13.31 kilometre fourth stage. The afternoon loop was more successful for the Cumbrian lad as his pacenotes began to really flow boosting his confidence levels, which showed, as he moved from 20th at the start of the day to an impressive 14th by day’s end.
In addition to the action on the stages, Stobart Motorsport physical trainer Barry Johnson hosted a team fitness session during the final loop of stages today as members took part in an exercise and stretching regime in the service area, keeping the participants in peak physical and mental shape during the long day.
Tomorrow sees one of the longest days of competitive rally action in the modern WRC era when competitors take on 186.1 kilometres of stage distance, half the total distance of the event. Leg 2 also welcomes back the monster Ouninpohja stage at its full glory.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
“What can I say, it hasn’t been my day. The morning was good though and the mid afternoon stages were going ok. We were coming around a long, long left-hand corner and in the middle of the road I hit a small stone which hit the sump and unsettled the car and we ended up with the rear of the car in the ditch and then hit a bank which broke the rear wheel. It’s been a massive high from leading this morning and also a big low after retiring from the first day on my home event. I’m totally disappointed with my accident today, I can’t believe it’s happened after such a good start to the rally.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“We lost some time at a slow junction on stage 8 as I left the braking too late and we had a small overshoot and lost a few seconds. It was a silly mistake as we were talking about that junction on the start-line before the stage. On stage 9 I heard a noise with the steering and my power-steering stopped working eight kilometres into stage 10, it was really hard work with no power-steering I can tell you that. I’m happy with how today went, the car is feeling good and I’m really looking forward to the fast stages tomorrow. I’m quite happy with the pace because we are close to guys at the top like Sordo and Atkinson so my aim is still for a top-five finish here.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“Urria was a really good stage for me, it felt comfortable as my notes were fantastic in it and this was evident in my time. There was one stage today where I just couldn’t get my pacenotes to work and lost some confidence but generally today they felt really good and I’m happy with the improvement. Tomorrow will be difficult as I am running second on the road which is not ideal as I won’t have any lines to follow. I’m just glad to be here at the end of leg 1, we started to have some good stages this afternoon and I can’t wait to have a go at Ouninpohja tomorrow at its full length.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Today has started off with a great performance and a great stage from Jari and it was fantastic to be leading the rally. There is no question that one day he will win this rally but on the other side I am disappointed with what happened this afternoon. Henning has been gradually building up his pace all day and it’s unfortunate that he had a power-steering problem towards the end of the day. Matt has done a good solid job today with some impressive split times when his pacenotes were working well and his confidence was high.”
Leaderboard after leg 1
1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 1h 05m 18.5sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +4.4sec
3. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen C4 +20.2sec
4. C Atkinson/S Prevot AUS Subaru Impreza +46.9sec
5. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +57.3sec
6. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen C4 +1m 22.8sec
7. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +1m 32.8sec
8. M Stohl/I Minor AUT Citroen Xsara +1m 45.8sec
9. J Hänninen/M Markkula FIN Mitsubishi Lancer +2m 01.6sec
10. U Aava/K Silkk EST Mitsubishi Lancer +2m 20.9sec
14. M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS +3m 28.7sec