The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team have finished day 1 of Rally Mexico – round three of the FIA World Rally Championship – with mixed fortunes as Brits Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin lead the way for the team in seventh position overall.
Unfortunately team-mates Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini were not so fortunate, having to retire from the event with minor rollcage damage. It was a cruel blow for the Italian pair who were in third place after the opening 23 kilometre test.
Twenty-one-year-old Wilson showed exceptional pace over the day with several of his spilt times matching those of the day’s fastest drivers. Despite losing almost a minute after being caught in the dust of fellow WRC competitor Toni Gardemeister the youngster held his top-eight position throughout the day.
Galli retired on stage 4 after running wide on a fast left-hand bend, breaking the trailing arm on his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07. The pair tried desperately to repair the damage in the stage but after a lengthy period the decision was made to retire for the day.
The broken trailing arm however caused sight damage to the rear section of the rollcage and a decision was made by the FIA and the team to retire the car from the event from a safety point of view. It was an unfortunate end to Galli’s first gravel event with the Stobart team after two great opening rounds this season in Monte-Carlo and Sweden.
The bulk of today’s 136 kilometres of competitive route took crews back to the Guanajuato region, where last night thousands of spectators lined the streets of the World Heritage listed town for the rally’s ceremonial start.
Road position was a key factor today as the front-runners were given the job of ’sweeping’ the roads giving competitors down the order a smoother road with more defined lines. Rocks also came into play with reports of huge boulders on racing lines but the new Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyre proved more than worthy with a limited amount of punctures reported in the rough conditions.
Temperatures were creeping up around the 30 degree Celsius mark today keeping physical demands high on competitors. The day comprised eight stages with the final two running over the 2.21 kilometre super special in Leon to the delight of local fans.
Tomorrow’s stages bring crews closer to Rally Campus in Leon running north east of the town. Sun shine and warm temperatures are again expected as teams head into the longest, and potentially hardest, day of the rally.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
“I am very disappointed with what happened on stage 4 today and the fact we have retired from the event. It was the first corner and I came flat in third gear and the car slid too wide and we banged into a rock. We tried to fix the problem on the stage but ended up losing too much time and had to retire. It was just so silly because everything was feeling good and it was so unlucky that we hit the rock because I felt like I was set up well for the fast left-hand corner. The first two stages today were very good and I actually didn’t really expect to get such good times because we were taking no risks and just driving sensibly and everything, the car, tyres and setup, was all perfect. I had a slight problem with a pacenote on stage 3 and we spun into a ditch and were stuck for a while as there were only four spectators to help us out there. It is a shame I only got to drive about 60 kilometres on gravel and with the new tyres but the experience will help me when we go to Argentina for the next round.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“The speed this morning was very good for us despite being held up in Toni’s dust on stage 2 where we lost around 50 seconds. The first two in the afternoon weren’t the best for me because the roads had cleared up which offered more grip that I didn’t quite use to full effect. The final proper stage before the super specials was really good though and had if it not been for a couple of silly little mistakes we would have been well under a second a kilometre off the fastest guys. This was a good way to finish the day as we head into tomorrow which I know will be another challenging leg. We had a small problem with the ignition coil at the end of the final super special but my mechanics did a super job in flexi service to bring the Focus back as good as new for tomorrow.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“I have been very impressed with Matthew today. His times this morning were quick and he is showing a lot more improvement compared to last year. Hopefully he can keep this pace for the rest of the event as he is currently looking good for a points finish. It has been a disappointing day for Gigi and I am a bit disappointed that his great start to the season has taken a knock. Sadly he can’t continue tomorrow under SupeRally rules and gain further experience on gravel ahead of Rally Argentina. Tomorrow will be a difficult day and today we have already seen several casualties amongst the top running competitors.”
Day 1 Leaderboard
1. J-M Latvala/M AnttilaFIN Ford Focus RS 1h23m38.6sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen C4 +9.6s
3. C Atkinson/S PrevotAUS Subaru Impreza +22.4s
4. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +1m01.9s
5. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +1m10.6s
6. H Solberg/C MenkerudN Ford Focus RS +2m43.6
7. M Wilson/S Martin GB Ford Focus RS +2m52.9s
8. F Villagra/J P CompancRA Ford Focus RS +5m30.0s
9. R Trivino/C SalomMEX Peugeot 206 +8m18.6s
10. S Ogier/J IngrassisF Citroen C2 +9m13.0s