Finnish success for Stobart’s Wilson and Kankkunen
Sixth and eighth in Rally Finland
Stobart M-Sport Ford’s driver Matthew Wilson finished sixth place at this weekend’s Neste Oil Rally Finland, Wilson’s best ever result at the event.
The duo’s best result prior to this was at 2009’s Rally Finland when they finished eighth overall.
Joining Wilson as a guest in the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team was four-time World Rally Champion, Juha Kankkunen, who last contested Rally Finland in 2002. Despite not competing in this event for eight years, the 51-year-old driver, had no problems adjusting to his Ford Focus RS WRC and finished a remarkable eighth overall.
Regular Stobart M-Sport Ford team-mates, Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor, produced the fastest split times for the majority of Friday afternoon’s opening stage and finished the 24.87km stage third-fastest. At the end of SS6, the duo moved into the top five and a comfortable 1.9 seconds ahead of Sebastien Loeb. Taking advantage of BP Ford Abu Dhabi’s Khalid Al Qassimi’s crash in SS6, Juha Kankkunen and co-driver, Juha Repo, moved up into ninth position on Friday afternoon. Wilson remained in seventh.
Solberg maintained his fast pace throughout SS7 and finished the 6.45km stage third-fastest but the Norwegian rolled his Ford Focus RS WRC after a tight corner on SS8. The car’s roll cage was badly damaged and Solberg was forced to retire from the event. Kankkunen’s only problem on Friday happened during SS2, where he was hit with a 10-second penalty for a jump start.
Mattias Therman and co-driver Janne Perälä made up the fourth crew of the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team at Rally Finland. The duo steadily improved their pace throughout Friday’s stages, moving from 22nd position at the end of the morning loop and finishing the first full day of Neste Oil Rally Finland in 15th position overall. By the end of the first day, Wilson was in sixth position as a result of Solberg’s crash and Kankkunen had moved up into seventh.
The final day of Rally Finland consisted of eight lengthy stages totalling 162.78km. The opening three stages proved troublesome for Mattias Therman who struggled to find the right rhythm after losing control over a jump on SS12. Despite a few hairy moments, the duo made it to the end of SS14 and remained in fifteenth position as they pulled into Service E. Wilson and Kankkunen encountered no major problems on the day’s opening stages and the crews remained in sixth and seventh position respectively at the end of Saturday’s opening loop.
Throughout Saturday afternoon’s stages, Mads Østberg produced a series of fast stage times and slowly crept up the leader board to push Kankkunen back into eighth position. Østberg then started to close the gap on Wilson during SS17 who was suffering from steering problems and as the 23-year-old driver pulled into Service F, just 32.7 seconds separated the two WRC drivers.
During SS18, Østberg closed the gap on Wilson to just 16.6 seconds but the young Stobart driver managed to push to the end of SS19 finishing 7.1 seconds ahead of Østberg and consolidating his sixth place finish. Kankkunen remained in eighth position and Therman finished a credible fourteenth overall.
Despite Solberg’s retirement, the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team still managed to leave the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship with a healthy haul of 10 points and the Cumbrian based squad remain fourth in the manufacturers’ championship table.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“I’m really happy to have finished sixth at this rally – we maintained a steady pace throughout and it’s definitely paid off. It’s always a difficult event to do well in as there are so many locals competing who know the stages very well. This morning’s [Saturday] stages was tricky but we managed to keep everything under control. There was something wrong with my steering towards the end of the day – I think the car may have go back to the workshop and be fully stripped and checked. It was getting close with Östberg towards the end but we made it out in front which was a great ending to a very difficult rally.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I was really enjoying myself here before we had to retire – the car set up was working very well. I was getting very close to catching up on my brother [Petter Solberg] in the last two stages before I crashed so it is very frustrating that we crashed. But I did try my best and I am pleased that I had got into the top five before I had to retire – just like Mikko [Hirvonen], I was very unlucky. The smallest mistake can prove fatal in this rally. I will try not to reflect on the accident too much and just aim for a good result in Germany next month when I will return to drive the [Ford Fiesta] S2000.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Juha Kankkunen said:
”I was proud to hear the support of so many fans this weekend and was very to be here with some of the best rallying people in the world – many of them have known me for more than 20 years. Today was a long day and I struggled to warm up first thing but it was nice to entertain the big crowd with some slides this weekend – even though that’s not the fastest way to go! I drove at my own pace for this rally and didn’t try to catch the title-chasers. My aim was to finish in the top ten finish so I am very happy to have finished in eighth and, of course, ahead of Kimi [Räikkönen].”
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