After two days of Wales Rally GB complete the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team have two crews inside the top-seven as the final round of the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship comes to a dramatic close.
Leading the charge is Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud who have advanced two places from their overnight position to occupy sixth overall. Crucial differential setup changes prior to stage 11 saw the Norwegian set a raft of top-six stage times as he blasted up the leaderboard to be perfectly positioned to post his best Rally GB result ever. With just 3.2 seconds separating Solberg and fifth placed PG Andersson he will be looking to push for the position on tomorrow’s final leg.
One place back and just 20 seconds adrift are team-mates François Duval/Denis Giraudet who struggled today to find the right setup and confidence on some slippery special stages. Despite the lack of confidence the Belgian managed to maintain a good pace to hold onto his overnight spot and remain in a good manufacturer point scoring position for his Stobart team.
Next up for the Stobart squad nestling in the top-10 are Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin who shrugged off a slowish start to post some quality times in the afternoon session. Wilson, too, battled with confidence issues on the slippery roads but was able to maintain his top-10 place with some smart driving when the conditions cleared up this afternoon.
Battling Wilson for the number 10 spot was fellow team-mate and Brit Barry Clark - and his co-driver Paul Nagle - who lies in 11th on his first Rally GB outing in a world rally car. Unfortunately a few small spins throughout the day and a small ‘off’ on stage 13 saw him fall one minute adrift after an outstanding ninth fastest time on the opening 30.68 kilometre Resolfen 1 test. The young Scot was temporarily into tenth position for two stages as the battle of the Brits fired up this morning.
The most improved award for the day certainly goes to MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi and co-driver Carlo Cassina who have moved a mammoth nine places up the leaderboard from their overnight position. Rossi put in some notably quicker times throughout the day finishing ahead of several, more experienced, WRC drivers.
Today saw the full running of all seven stages with a pass over the spectacular Millennium Stadium super special in Cardiff which was full of buzz for the final super special of the year. Conditions today stayed a lot nicer than yesterday apart from some early morning fog and remaining icy patches during the morning loop of stages. Once again the Pirelli Scorpion stood up to the task delivering a puncture-free day’s rallying.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Driver François Duval said:“This morning was difficult and not easy to drive with all of the ice. For me the main thing is to stay on the road and try to stay in the points as well, so everything is going to plan at the minute. The grip is varying quite a lot and it’s really tricky to keep going hard without some scares. Sometimes you get the feeling that everything is safe and going ok then we have a big slide.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Driver Matthew Wilson said:“We have had another difficult day and the conditions have remained tricky. It was very icy this morning but some patches had thawed this afternoon making it more inconsistent. We had a big scare where Ostberg crashed and were lucky that the marshals slowed us down. Hopefully the conditions will be better tomorrow as I’d like to push for points.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Driver Valentino Rossi said:“Today started off well and I had a really great feeling in the first stage; there was some frost on the ground but not as much ice as yesterday. The stages got more rough on the second pass and there was a lot more gravel on the roads. I’m really enjoying this rally though and I have settled in more than the first day. The Focus feels very good now and my times are improving with every stage and that was my main aim for this rally.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Driver Henning Solberg said:“It was very slippery in some places but we have made it back today and moved up a couple of places. I found a really good setting with the diff and from them my times have improved quite a bit. So, yes, a good day I would say but also very difficult. It’s so hard trying to guess the amount of grip there is.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Driver Barry Clark said:“The conditions were difficult again today but I’m pleased as we have put in a steady run. I slid wide this morning on a corner that tightened and we hit a big log; we were lucky to get away with minimal damage though. We had a couple of spins as well and it was just very hard to find where the grip was. But I’m happy we are up near the top-10 and I think my experience of rallying in Scotland on snow and ice has been helping me here today.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:“Today has been another tough test with all the Stobart cars again running faultlessly and making it back to Parc Ferme in one piece. The big mover today has been Valentino who has jumped nine positions up the leaderboard to 15th. It is fantastic to see his pace has improved as he is now getting used to the conditions. Tomorrow will be a very difficult day judging by the weather forecast but hopefully the Stobart crews will continue their flawless run and all make it to the finish ramp.”
Leaderboard after Day 21. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 1h47m52.4s 2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroën C4 +7.3s3. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroën C4 +27.9s 4. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +52.5s5. P-G Andersson/J Andersson SWE Suzuki SX4 +2m06.1s6. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +2m09.3s7. F Duval/D Giraudet B Ford Focus RS +2m29.6s 8. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen FIN Suzuki SX4 +3m33.0s9. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +4m44.5s10. M Wilson/S Martin GB Ford Focus RS +4m49.5s11. B Clark/P Nagle GB Ford Focus RS +5m50.6s15. V Rossi/C Cassina I Ford Focus RS +9m37.6s