Best Portuguese finish for Stobart’s Wilson
Britain’s Matthew Wilson scored his best ever Portuguese result this weekend after he and fellow Cumbrian Scott Martin finished fifth overall in their M-Sport Stobart run Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
The 24-year-old’s previous best finish at Rally de Portugal was sixth and this weekend’s result is Wilson’s first top-five finish since last year’s Jordan Rally, proving that Britain’s top WRC driver is adapting well to driving Ford’s new Fiesta RS WRC.
Throughout Friday’s repeat loop of three stages totalling 132.41 km, Wilson and team-mate Henning Solberg battled it out for fifth position and only 4.7 seconds separated the Fiesta RS WRC team-mates as Solberg held fifth at the end of the day.
However, after a quick time on Saturday’s opening stage, Wilson moved up to fifth – 7.5 seconds ahead of his team-mate. Then on Stage 11, Solberg’s Fiesta RS WRC suffered power steering issues which was closely followed by a puncture on Stage 12, losing the Norwegian three minutes and widening the gap. Despite a difficult afternoon, Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor battled on and pulled into the end of a difficult second day sixth overall.
Wilson moved further up the WRC leaderboard and into a career-best fourth place when fellow Ford Abu Dhabi’s Mikko Hirvonen suffered problems with rear suspension on the day’s closing 22.56 km stage. Portugal marks the second consecutive event so far this season where Wilson has been running fourth during a rally.
By the end of the second day, just over 60 seconds separated Britain’s top WRC driver from securing his first ever podium position in the FIA World Rally Championship. Wilson finished fourth at 2007’s Rally Japan but fourth place would be the best ever result with current co-driver Scott Martin.
Sunday proved relatively trouble-free for Wilson. He was knocked back into fifth place but a problem for Hirvonen on Stage 15 meant the 24-year-old was shortly back into fourth. However, the final two stages saw a push from the Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate and consolidated Wilson’s fifth place finish.
Disaster struck for M-Sport Stobart’s other team-mate on the penultimate stage when Solberg encountered problems with his turbo, dropping him from sixth place and down into ninth overall.
After his storming debut for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team in Mexico and Sweden, Mads Østberg was looking to secure his third consecutive top-five result in Portugal. However, during Thursday’s evening Super Special in Lisbon, the 23-year-old tore the front right wheel off his Fiesta RS WRC when he collided with a concrete bollard. The loose wheel hit a spectator in the crowd who was taken to hospital for precautionary checks but was later released with no reported injuries.
Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson were dealt another dose of bad luck when their car suffered from a broken gearbox 300m into Friday’s opening stage, forcing the disappointed duo to retire.
The Scandinavian pairing returned to the rally on Saturday morning where they set two top-five stage times but encountered more bad luck when they suffered from power steering problems on Stage 11, forcing the duo to retire for the second consecutive day.
Østberg returned to the rally on Sunday to try and gain as much experience in the Fiesta RS WRC as possible ahead of Jordan Rally. The Norwegian had a trouble-free day, racking up three top-four stage times and an incredible show of pace to finish 31st overall.
Matthew Wilson said:
“We found a nice comfortable pace on the first stage this morning but then we backed off, there were lots of tight corners and I just didn’t want to take any risks. If we’d known Mikko [Hirvonen] had problems on the same stage, then we probably would have pushed harder but it was difficult to know how to play it. I think the incident in 2009 was on the back of my mind when we were running fifth on the final day and then I crashed. I’m happy with how everything has gone generally – we were able to increase the pace when we needed to and then yesterday we had the luxury of playing things a bit cooler after Henning has his puncture. The result has made me really determined to try and secure more WRC rounds later on in the season and this is what Scott and I will be concentrating on over the next couple of months.”
Henning Solberg said:
“We’ve had a lot of problems this weekend but that is how it is – I wonder if I can buy luck?! But we have made it to the end and scored points for the team so that is the main thing. There was a lot of humidity in the stages this morning and the grip was constantly changing – it was difficult but made even harder as we had some power steering problems on Stage 15. We had Kimi [Räikkönen] close behind us this afternoon and I wanted to push but then we had a problem with our turbo which lost us time and cost us three positions. For sure, it is disappointing to have more problems here but hopefully at the next rally, I can go flat out. You will see me on the podium soon.”
Mads Østberg said:
“It’s been one trouble after another this weekend but today has been going much better. We seem to have a set-up that works very well on the car and we are trying to improve our speed all the time. At the next event, we want to battle with the factory drivers and we will be ready for it. I have been using today like an extended test - to try and get rid of all the troubles and to find the perfect set-up. But I wanted to give it a try on the Power Stage this afternoon so for that stage I wanted to go flat out and to try and get more points – we had nothing to lose really so we pushed and I think we are getting closer to the best drivers so I have to be happy with that.”
M-Sport Stobart Ford Team Prinicpal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s been a weekend of mixed fortunes for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team this weekend. Matthew had proved just what he is capable of and his top-five finish is very well deserved. Hopefully this result has helped boosted his confidence after his misfortune in Mexico and will help him secure more WRC rounds later in the season. I feel very sorry for Mads – it was a difficult weekend for him but at least he was able to return each day to gain valuable experience in the car and I have no doubt that he will be able to battle with the factory drivers at the next event as his pace is very impressive. Henning has also had his fair share of problems this weekend but his commitment and pace he has shown on gravel this weekend will be sure to help him for Jordan next month. It’s good for the team that Henning has picked up some points for team which has secured the squad’s third place in the FIA Manufacturers’ Championship standings.”
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