Stobart’s Solberg picks up the pace in Portugal
Rally de Portugal - After Day 2
Stobart M-Sport Ford’s Henning Solberg finished day one of Rally de Portugal on a high as he went third fastest on the final stage and ensured the Cumbrian team was well placed to fight for third spot in the Manufacturers’ Championship.
The Norwegian increased his pace steadily throughout the first full day of action in the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) to finish seventh overall, and with team-mate Matthew Wilson tucked in just behind in eight place the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team remains on track for another strong points haul.
The event kicked off in the Algarve Stadium on Thursday evening with an exciting tarmac Super Special Stage. Constructed in 2004, huge crowds flocked to watch the WRC drivers go head to head round the spectacular flood-lit 2.03km speed test. Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor were paired with Henning’s younger brother Petter, and finished the test only 0.1 seconds off claiming fourth position. Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin finished the opening test seventh-fastest overall.
With mild weather in the Algarve in the run up to the event, the stages during the recce were noted as very dry with fast, hard-packed surfaces. Solberg reported problems with dust spilling into his Ford Focus RS WRC, so his engineers used extra foam and readjusted his door in an attempt to minimise any problems during the event.
Wilson noted that the opening stage of the day, Santa Clara 1, was extremely dusty and it made for very difficult driving. The 23-year-old Briton finished the stage eighth-fastest, while Solberg encountered steering-related problems which meant he finished the 22.72km test 7.6 seconds behind his team-mate.
Despite Solberg’s shaky start, he steadily improved throughout the morning and finished SS3 sixth-fastest. This fast stage time closed gap on his team-mate and just 0.1 seconds separated the Stobart- backed crews as they entered the final test of the morning. Solberg produced another excellent time on SS4 and finished fifth-fastest overall, just 0.3 seconds BP Ford Abu Dhabi’s Jari-Matti Latvala. At the end of the morning, the Norwegian moved up into seventh position and Wilson was moved back into eighth.
The afternoon consisted of a repeat loop of the morning’s tests. Solberg improved his times substantially in the repeat loop, and on the Santa Clara stage completed the day’s longest test seventh-fastest, just 4.1 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb. Solberg went on to finish SS6 sixth-fastest and extended the gap over his team-mate Wilson to 25.1 seconds. The final test of the day was a fantastic result for the Norwegian as he clocked the test third-fastest time, just 2.6 seconds off claiming second place in the stage. At the end of the day 33.9 seconds separates Solberg in seventh position and Wilson in eighth and the Norwegian is just 17.9 seconds from claiming sixth position as he enters day two.
Saturday is the longest of the rally and comprises of 135.10km of competitive distance covering six gravel stages north of the service park, including a repeat loop of the rally’s longest stage, 26.20km Almodovar (SS8 and SS11), which kicks off the morning and afternoon loop.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said: “It’s been a very hard day. The stages were good this morning and I felt like everything was running smoothly but the roads were very dusty though some of the dust spilled into the car in the morning’s stages. We wanted to push a lot more in the afternoon but we lost our brakes a little bit and we needed to make sure that we were looking after our tyres. It’s a rally which is very hard on the car but I feel everything is going OK and I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said: “The stages were really slippery this morning and I struggled with steering on the opening stage, but I changed damper settings after the stage which seemed to help. I had a lot of problems with my brake at the start of the last stage today and I am sure that if it wasn’t for that I would have finished the stage fastest, for sure. I will continue to push tomorrow.”
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