The seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship threw everything at the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team this weekend with Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin leading the way with a superb sixth placed result on the Acropolis Rally of Greece.
Team-mates Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud pushed through Sunday setbacks to finish eighth overall and score three valuable manufacturer points for their Stobart team. Wilson’s fine result sees him move up to ninth in the Drivers’ Championship while Solberg occupies eighth. Solberg’s manufacturer points haul also keeps the Stobart team in sight of third place as they nestle just 13 points behind in fourth.
Solberg was set for a fine result coming into today’s final leg comfortably in third position overall. Unfortunately for the Norwegian a mysterious electrical issue caused his car to cut out several times during the stages and most prolifically on stage 17 this afternoon when he lost over five minutes. Still it was a gallant effort to bring his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 back in one piece and in a position to pick up some vital manufacturer points. Wilson had a fairly clean run all weekend due to safe and intelligent driving and good preservation of his Pirelli tyres which held up well throughout the event. The only major issue for the 21-year-old was a broken prop-shaft on stage 3 which lost him around 45 seconds.
Despite their four stage wins it was just not Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini’s rally as they retired on all three days. On day 1, just over 12 kilometres into stage 2, on a fast left hand corner the Italian hit a large rock in the middle of the road which immediately broke the front, right track control arm in the suspension and this in turn damaged the driveshaft. The exact incident was cruelly re-enacted this afternoon 15 kilometres into stage 18 ending what has been an unlucky event for the Italian star.
Re-entering day 2 under SupeRally regulations Galli picked up his first two stage wins on the morning loop of three stages but disaster struck in transit to the first test after service. He felt a vibration on the motorway and lost hydraulic pressure before arriving to the start of stage 11. As a result he lost the use of both his gear shift and differentials; important components to ensure the safe and efficient passage through the stages. On a brighter note, however, Galli won the inaugural Colin McRae Trophy, offered by the organisers of the Acropolis Rally of Greece, for achieving the highest average speed -100.77kph - on a stage.
With the shortening of two stages (Psatha and Avlonas) on this event and the lengthening of Assopia today, a total of 335.36 competitive kilometres took crews over 20 special stages. All three legs ran amongst the outskirts of Athens. Weather conditions were typical of a Greek summer with blistering hot temperatures and blue skies on all three days. The heat certainly took its toll on crews as cockpit temperatures marched well into the 40 degree centigrade bracket meaning fitness and concentration played a big role in performance.
The next event for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team will see all three crews travel to Rally of Turkey for another hot summer event. Both Solberg and Galli will again score for the squad on this historic rally for the Norwegian where he scored his first ever podium finish in the WRC, in 2006.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
“What a cruel rally this has been for us, I knew it would be tough but the conditions were very difficult indeed as you can see from the problems we had on all three days. But we have found a really good feeling with the car and a good speed which has meant some more fastest times and this is the most important thing for me. The only thing we need now is some more luck and hopefully in Turkey this will come. Even in the rough conditions the tyres worked well and I’m confident they will do a good job in Turkey also.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“I’m very disappointed with dropping those places today after working so hard throughout the rally. We concentrated on taking care of the car and preserving the tyres but still managed to put in some good times and I was delighted last night to have reached third position. But these things happen and although I am not very happy we will go to Turkey with a good feeling with the car and confident that we can set some good times and cope with the rough gravel conditions.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“I’m really pleased with our result here. I knew we had to improve on Sardinia when I didn’t have a good feeling with the car and we did just that. The times on the first day were really encouraging for me but unfortunately we had the prop-shaft problem which knocked us back. But we climbed back into a fantastic position then concentrated on preserving the car and getting round without any other major dramas; this was definitely an achievement in itself. Now I just want to keep improving and the result here will help me in Turkey where we will try for more decent times.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s a shame for Henning that he missed out on a podium finish. He had a very sensible and measured drive and used his many years of experience to great effect and I’m disappointed that we were unable to locate the source of the problem. Gigi also had his problems but put in some great times and I’m sure he has learnt a lot about the conditions here that he can use to good effect on the next round in Turkey. Matthew has picked up some important driver points and by staying out of trouble and driving to the conditions, he was able to put Friday’s problems behind him and climb up six positions in two days.”
Stobart Group Ltd CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
“This classic event hasn’t provided a classic result for the Stobart team unfortunately, but Matthew’s maturity and determination has shone through. He and Scott really focused on getting back into the points and they drove a great rally to stay out of trouble. Henning was looking good for a fantastic podium finish but his last minute problem put paid to that. But it has been encouraging to see Gigi setting some more fastest times and I know all three crews will now be setting their sights on Turkey and chasing Subaru in the manufacturer’s race.”
1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroën C4 3h54m54.7s
2. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +1m09.5s
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +1m56.1s
4. U Aava/K Sikk EE Citroën C4 +4m19.7s
5. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroën C4 +4m49.4s
6. M Wilson/S Martin GB Ford Focus RS +6m11.3s
7. J-M Latvala/M Attila FIN Ford Focus RS +6m47.5s
8. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +9m14.0s
FIA WRC Manufacturer Standings
1. BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT – 81 pts
2. Citroën Total WRT – 79 pts
3. Subaru WRT – 50 pts
4. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford – 37 pts
5. Munchi’s Ford WRT – 16 pts
6. Suzuki WRT – 10 pts
FIA WRC Driver Standings
1. S Loeb – 50 pts
2. M Hirvonen – 49 pts
3. C Atkinson – 31 pts
4. J-M Latvala – 26 pts
5. D Sordo – 25 pts
6. G Galli – 17 pts
8. H Solberg – 12 pts
9. M Wilson – 10 pts