Catalunya - Stobart M-Sport Ford - Leg 2
Finns Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila have set the pace for the Stobart Ford rally team by finishing leg 2 of Rally RACC Catalunya Costa Daurada in seventh position. Latvala showed the biggest improvement of the top drivers overnight,
setting competitive stages times all day.
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud continued to learn the ways of asphalt driving as they improved on yesterday's stage positions. British duo Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr also showed notable improvements over today's eg as they sit just one spot outside the top ten.
Day 2 saw 119 kilometres of competitive action over eight stages split-up by one midday service; before all competitors headed back for a final 45-minute flexi service in the evening. All eight special stages ran to the west of Rally HQ under reasonably dry conditions as the heavens gave crews a break by keeping the rain at bay for the duration of the day.
These dry conditions meant tyre choice did not play as decisive a factor as it did on yesterday's leg. However, it was loose gravel running onto the road from deep cuts made by front running competitors that made things tricky for several crews. Large concrete blocks were placed on several exposed corners to try and limit the amount of gravel dragged onto the roads but it was still present in enough places to keep drivers wary at all times.
Tyre wear could have been a factor today with only two loops of four asphalt speed tests.
However, for all Stobart crews, the selected compounds of dry asphalt tyre worked perfectly and the tyre choices made by crews were close to ideal.
Battles were waged throughout the field but surprisingly the top 12 overnight leaderboard finished in identical fashion to yesterday's by the end of today's leg.
Latvala put in some superb times today finishing three of the eight stages within the top five. In the process the 22-year-old managed to close the gap to his nearest rival Petter Solberg, in sixth, and extend the gap over Chris Atkinson in eighth. If the young Finn keeps this trend up tomorrow and gets ahead of Solberg, it will mean no loss of points to Subaru in the manufacturers' race. The Stobart team currently occupy fourth, a mere five points behind the Japanese manufacturer.
Sitting in tenth is Solberg who had a far more enjoyable outing, really improving on his tarmac skills, finishing the day with a well-deserved ninth fastest stage time. The Norwegian has been using the event to really get to grips with his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 on tarmac, ahead of the next round in Corsica, and today began to really enjoy driving on the sealed surface.
Young Briton Wilson began the day with a huge scare when his Focus RS did a full 360-degree spin on a fourth gear, right-hand tightening corner which resulted in him sliding down the road backwards between two barriers. This moment didn't seem to faze the 20-year-old as he put in a consistent run to the end of the leg with no other major issues and regular fast split-times.
Tomorrow's final leg again takes crews to the west of Salou for the final 85 kilometres of competitive Rally Catalunya action.
"The dry roads today have made things much better than yesterday. When the surface is consistent then it makes it easier for me to concentrate and learn how to drive better and really it has been a good chance for me to get more experience on tarmac. I am working better with the car now and my feeling is improving after every stage. However, I must also remember that this is my first time here and I don't want to get caught out tomorrow and spoil what has been a very good first attempt at this event. It is extremely important for me to finish here as the things I have learnt on this rally will be fresh in my head when we go to Corsica next week. I have to be smart, think ahead and be prepared for Corsica; what I take from this event will be important for the next one."
"This has been another good day for me and the last two stages today were definitely the best of the rally so far. The most important thing for me has been my increased consistency. In Monte Carlo my speed was very up and down but now I am more in control and am able to keep the speed level all of the time. My driving has improved so much when I look back as to how I tackled these stages last year. There were some very nice stages today, my tyre choice has been perfect and I have been very happy with the car. Some parts were difficult because we are doing these stages for the first pass and I didn't know how fast I could go and probably took some corners a bit too slowly. I know the stages tomorrow quite well so hopefully I can maintain a good performance through these also."
"The weather has been a great help today. My driving is getting better all the time now and because the roads were consistently dry, it meant I could focus on my tarmac driving technique. I tried something new to try and carry more speed through medium speed corners. This was starting to work this afternoon but it will take time and it's something that just can't be rushed; there is still more to come. Even though it was dry the conditions were still tricky in places as there was quite a lot of gravel dragged out onto the road. We had a spin at the start of the second stage. It was a fourth gear, right hand corner that tightened and I ended up sliding down the road backwards in-between two barriers; we were very lucky to get away with it. The other stages today have been much better for me and I'm starting to get more confidence."
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson:
"The guys have all been driving sensibly again today and with increasing performance and speed throughout the day. It has been great to see Jari-Matti extend his lead over Chris Atkinson and close the gap to sixth in the process. His pre-event tarmac training has obviously paid off. Today has been much better for Henning and Matthew also, they both have more confidence with the car and have put in some great times during the day. As a team performance it's been another solid day. They've made no major mistakes and not put a mark on the cars. I explained the importance of this to the whole team before the start of the event as it's vital we have the cars, and drivers, in as good a condition as possible for the next round in Corsica in a week's time."
Source Stobart M-Sport Ford