Catalunya - Stobart M-Sport Ford - Finsih
All three Stobart M-Sport Ford crews have finished strongly at this weekend's Rally RACC Catalunya Costa Daurada, round 13 of the FIA World Rally Championship. Continuing his run-of-form, Jari-Matti Latvala, with co-driver Miikka
Anttila, has finished top of the trio in seventh position, maintaining the team's fourth place in the manufacturers' championship.
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud notched up a well earned tenth on Solberg's third-ever tarmac event while team-mates Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr gained vital experience mileage to finish the event just one place behind the Norwegian in eleventh.
Another dry day left competitors with pleasant racing conditions as the final 85 kilometres of competitive distance took crews over stages to the west of Rally Headquarters in Salou. This event tested the ability of team's expert weather crews, especially on the opening leg when heavy overnight rain made conditions difficult and forced the cancellation of Thursday night's ceremonial start.
Tyre choice was a critical factor on this event as patches of rain and damp sections of tarmac kept competitors on their toes. Loose gravel being dragged onto the roads from the deep cuts created by front running crews was also an obstacle drivers had to battle throughout the weekend.
Latvala began the event in a steady manner. After a training session with multiple Finnish touring car champion Olli Haapalainen last month, he used the opening day to experiment with the new driving style he had adopted.
While initial indications of a turn-of-speed were not immediately present, leg 2 proved to be the day for the 22-year-old as he set three top-five stage times, hunting down closest rival Petter Solberg in the process.
Tenth place was a well-driven effort by Solberg on his first outing to the Spanish rally. Leg 1 was used as a steep learning curve, not only of the event's roads but the sealed surface, which he only began competing on for the first time this year despite almost ten years in the WRC. The Norwegian continued through the kilometres, learning more after every test, and brought his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 home without a scratch – an important factor with the car required for Rally de France next weekend.
Britain's only fulltime WRC contender had a cautious start, 17th after the opening test, but improved greatly over the three days to finish with his placing just one spot outside the top ten. Wilson's only notable incident was a massive spin during the opening section of Vilaplana 1 on Saturday. 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 event has been a prefect preparation for next weekend's Rally de France with all three Sobart crews bringing their cars home without a scratch but more importantly with a full rally's tarmac mileage under their belts leading up to the Corsica-based event.
"This event has been a great help for me in my attempt to improve my driving style and increase my experience on asphalt. We had no problems at all with the car which meant it was easier to concentrate on driving and improving my confidence and technique on this surface. I was learning so much with every stage I completed during this event and I have to say that to be inside the top-ten, on my first attempt here, is a very good feeling for me. It was 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."
"I'm very pleased with my performance as we didn't make any mistakes but were able to be consistently quick. It's also quite promising to have no problems with the car and to have a clean run. I have taken a lot from this rally with regards to my driving technique but I still know there is lots of room for improvement in other areas. 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."
"It's been quite a sensible rally for me and I'm glad I didn't do anything silly before Corsica. I have actually learnt quite a lot from this event and it's been excellent preparation for the next round. The first day was very slippery and difficult but when the roads were dry my confidence was high and things felt really good. It was also important to finish this event and get all the stages completed and gain the maximum experience possible in readiness for Corsica. I tried something new to try and carry more speed through medium speed corners. This was starting to work but it will take time and it's something that just can't be rushed; there is still more to come."
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson:
"It has been very promising that all three crews have gained maximum experience from this event. They have done exactly what was asked of them, to finish the rally, complete all the stages and keep the cars in perfect condition for the next event. The conditions on the first day made things difficult but when the roads were dry, for the rest of the event, all drivers grew in confidence and scored some impressive stage times. What makes this result even more special is the fact that the team have had limited testing on asphalt and they have had to adapt to the surface quickly and professionally."
Stobart M-Sport Ford