Østberg flies to sixth after final Finnish thriller
An excellent result for the young Norwegian
Mads Østberg narrowly missed out on fifth place at Neste Oil Rally Finland after a three-way battle between the M-Sport Stobart Ford driver, Petter Solberg and Ford Abu Dhabi’s Mikko Hirvonen went down to the wire.
Team-mates Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson finished seventh and eighth respectively.
Four Ford Fiesta RS WRC crews competed under the M-Sport Stobart banner this weekend as a total of 118 crews travelled to Jyväskylä in central Finland to tackle some of the fastest and most challenging stages on the WRC calendar.
Fresh from their victory at Rally Estonia, Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson led the way for the Cumbria-based squad from start to finish. The duo – who were sporting black armbands as a mark of respect for the recent tragedies in Norway – were lying eighth at the end of the first day.
Britain’s Matthew Wilson had a strong start to the “Finnish Grand Prix” by posting a third-fastest stage time during Thursday’s penultimate 11.79 km speed test. The result marked Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin’s best stage time of the season so far.
Team-mate Henning Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor had no problems in the team’s other Fiesta RS WRC and the duo were lying only 5.7 seconds adrift of tenth place by the end of Stage 3.
Evgeny Novikov stated him aim for this year’s Rally Finland was to improve his pacenotes and to gain as much experience of the fast Finnish roads as possible. The 20-year-old was happy with his first day’s performance and the Russian held 15th going into Day 2.
Friday saw the WRC crews journey south to the Päijänne Tavastia region where eight speed tests covering 134.60 km awaited. Three top five stage times including a third-fastest time on the day’s closing 12 km stage elevated Østberg into fifth, 28.6 seconds ahead of Ford Abu Dhabi’s Mikko Hirvonen.
Team-mate Wilson reported a near collision with a tree on Stage 6 but the 24-year-old battled back to lie 10.8 seconds adrift of tenth place at the end of Day 2. Henning Solberg had a drama-free day in the team’s other Ford Fiesta RS WRC, gradually improving his stage times to sit tenth overnight, 1.2 seconds adrift of ninth place.
Novikov continued his cautious driving approach throughout Friday’s stages but a mechanical problem with his Ford Fiesta RS WRC 5 km towards the end of Stage 8 hindered his progress. The 20-year-old returned for the final day’s action but was forced to retire when he encountered another mechanical related problem whilst on the road section to Stage 16.
Saturday’s action saw a close battle with the remaining three M-Sport Stobart Ford crews. Solberg and Wilson were both fighting for seventh and eighth place with Kimi Raikkonen and Kris Meeke whilst further up the field Østberg was fighting for fifth with fellow Norwegian Petter Solberg.
Østberg was hot on the tail of Solberg throughout the final day and the 23-year-old successfully slashed Solberg’s lead from 30.9 seconds at the end of day 2 down to a mere 9.6 seconds before the day’s closing power stage. However, with the rally’s final stage covering only 4.19 km the gap proved too much and Østberg finished a sixth overall after a tremendous effort.
A top three stage time and a drama-free day for Solberg on Saturday saw the Norwegian elevate from tenth to seventh in the WRC leaderboard. Wilson also rocketed up the standings from 11th to a credible eighth overall.
Mads Østberg said:
“I’ve been very happy with my speed this weekend. It’s been a hard fight with both Mikko [Hirvonen] and Petter [Solberg] and I really needed to do more than my best to try and finish ahead of them today but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. We have been going absolutely flat out this afternoon and I have given it my all so I’m not at all disappointed to miss out on fifth place. It’s great to be able to match the times of some of the “top five” - everything has been working very well for us today so this has been a great confident boost. I’m just hoping that this weekend will have helped us find the extra help that we need for us to secure us more events.”
Henning Solberg said:
“Last night I said that I was aiming for seventh place and I have achieved this so I am very happy. I knew that seventh was going to be difficult to get but everything has been working well today and I have really enjoyed the close battle on the stages. It feels even better when you win the battle you are playing! For sure, the conditions on the roads have been very hard this afternoon - I don’t think I could have pushed more as I could have risked making a mistake. I wanted to go as fast as I could on the Power Stage but tyre wear really became a problem at the end. I have really tried my best and enjoyed myself too so there is no more to say.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“I’ve had an absolutely brilliant day today - I’ve loved the battle with Henning, Kimi and Kris this afternoon. It’s definitely been the hardest battle I’ve ever had to get to eighth place but it’s been worth it. We wanted to try and keep up with Henning too so we’ve been keeping an eye on the splits to try and push when we needed to but the gap was just too much in the end. It’s been a good weekend overall – we had a big moment with our spin yesterday and we’ve found it difficult to keep neat and tidy due to loose gravel but I’ve really enjoyed myself.”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“We’ve had some small problems with the car this weekend, both today and yesterday. My one and only objective this weekend was to learn the stages and, for sure, we did that but it just would have been nice to get through all of them and to have made it to the end of all of the stages. I’d like to come back to Finland next time faster and without any problems, then I think I will be a lot quicker.”
M-Sport Stobart Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s been a strong weekend for the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team. Mads has shown an incredible amount of pace both today and yesterday, he’s improving on every rally and I firmly believe Mads has got a very exciting future ahead. Both Henning and Matthew posted top three times this weekend which is something to be proud of considering this is one of the hardest rallies on the calendar. The times have been very close during today’s stages and there’s been a good battle between Matthew, Henning and some of the other drivers which has made it very exciting to watch. Evgeny wanted to gain experience this weekend and unfortunately he had some bad luck with the car yesterday and today. However, he managed to improve his pacenotes and gain more experience so hopefully he will come back even stronger next year.”
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