Catalunya - Stobart M-Sport Ford - Leg 1
Both points-scoring Stobart M-Sport Ford crews are firmly positioned inside the top ten after day 1 of Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila lead the way in seventh position while Henning Solberg/Cato
Menkerud round things off in tenth.
Their teammates Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr put a slow start behind them to set some impressive afternoon times and move from 16th, after two stages, to eleventh by leg's end.
Tyre choice and weather conditions were a huge factor in today's final leaderboard as competitors took various gambles on the final two tests. The choice relied heavily upon weather crew information but even the experts were banking on hope, with these extremely unpredictable changing conditions today.
The tyres made a huge impact today with drivers electing various compounds and cuts in varying degrees of prediction of rain.
This morning's stages took crews north east of Rally HQ in Salou while this afternoon's two tests led teams over to the west before returning back to the day's final service. In total 148 kilometres of stage distance were tackled offering some extremely close competition among WRC competitors.
After a cautious start Latvala continued to improve on every stage, picking up several positions to finish with his current points placing.
The Finn was in a close battle with Australian Chris Atkinson all day with just 0.1 seconds separating them after the penultimate stage today. The 22-year-old won the day's battle on the final test taking ten seconds out of Atkinson to move ahead on the leaderboard.
For Solberg it was a steep learning curve today as he competitively tackled the Catalan stages for the first time in his career. Battling a dose of the flu, the Norwegian showed vast improvement over the day to finish inside the top ten but admitted he has a lot to learn about the way to drive successfully on a tarmac surface.
Wilson took two stages to find his grove on the surface but began to show real improvement as the day went on and roads became dryer. The final stage, Pratdip, caused the Briton some trouble though when he had a wiper malfunction at the start and had to battle through rainy sections with little to no visibility. The 20-year old lost some time in the process but was able to hang on to his well-driven eleventh place.
"To be in the top ten after my first day, and my first ever attempt at this rally, is quite a good sensation. I enjoyed the stages this morning but I have no experience of this event and this is something I must remember and try not to get carried away during the rally. I didn't have a perfect feeling with the car and it's hard to find the exact amount to push. It's difficult to know exactly how to drive this car on tarmac and my style at the moment is not working too well. The last stage today was so slippery as it rained heavily and we were on slicks; I had to be very careful under braking and keep a steady head. Tomorrow should be a good day as I'm learning with every stage I complete."
"I have made good progress today both with my car set-up and also my driving style on asphalt. The car is handling really well now which means I can concentrate on improving my driving technique. When the roads here are dry I have a lot of confidence but the mixed conditions made it really difficult this morning. I can say that the last stage today was quite important for me. It was probably my best performance on wet asphalt and it has been a good way to end the first day here. The stages for tomorrow are similar to the last two today and I had a good run on these; I'm looking forward now to the second day."
"I have been trying to learn on this event and the conditions have made this very difficult. The car and tyres have been great but the surface changes so much on the stages that it's hard to get into a rhythm and get confidence. If the weather had stayed dry in the afternoon then it would have helped but the heavy rain on the last stage put paid to that; and with my wiper problem, it was an extremely difficult situation. I have taken good experience from today and we are just outside the top ten; it's a good first day and hopefully if it keeps dry tomorrow, I can up my confidence and up my pace."
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson:
"It's been a great performance from Jari-Matti today and indeed from all the Stobart team. We have all three cars in the top eleven places and they have had a strong first day in this tough event. All this is after a very limited amount of testing on tarmac this year and the drivers have adapted well to extremely difficult surfaces and weather conditions that this rally has already produced. They have driven with their heads, made sensible decisions with tyres choices and learnt how to cope with the tricky surfaces. It's been a great team start and a solid foundation that they can build upon tomorrow."
Source Stobart M-Sport Ford