Japan - Stobart M-Sport Ford - Leg 2
Day two of Rally Japan has been another successful one for the Stobart M-Sport Ford rally team as both Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr occupy firm positions inside the top-five.
The team's overnight
sensations Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila began strong this morning locked in a battle with current World Champion Sebastien Loeb
until, under remarkable circumstances, both drivers retired hundreds of metres from each other on stage 13, promoting Solberg to the final podium spot.
Early morning rain set the scene for one of the most dramatic legs, and indeed rallies, in recent history. Conditions proved to be very slippery on the opening loop which included the longest stage of the event, Puray, at 34.96 kilometres in length. Like yesterday the opening stages caused havoc amongst the leaderboard with three of the big names retiring on the early morning stages of today's leg.
Similar to yesterday, stages ran quite a distance north of Rally Headquarters in central Obihiro as teams kicked off to an early start with a 05:05 service ahead of the long liaison to the first stage. Crews battled eight challenging stages today before heading back to service for two more runs of the Obihiro super special which saw 14,000 spectators present to cheer on their favourite teams at last night's running.
Unfortunately for Latvala things didn't go his way today after such a positive opening leg where he was leading the rally after five stages. On stage 12, the 22-year-old had a hydraulic problem which caused him to revert to the manual gear change on stage 13.
Over a medium speed right hand corner, 6.5km into the stage, he understeered at the entry, hitting a tree with the front left of the car and blocking the stage. Both he and co-driver Anttila had to move quickly as current rally leader Mikko Hirvonen was next on stage. His Stobart team have repaired his Ford Focus RS WRC06 in readiness for a SupeRally return tomorrow as he is still in with a chance of obtaining manufacturer points for his team.
For Solberg it has been another fine day as he looks poised to match his best ever result on gravel and possibly his second podium for the 2007 season. Solberg began the day well within striking distance of Dani Sordo in second place but after the Spaniard extended the gap in the morning stages the Norwegian made the sensible decision to back off and secure his current third position. With a massive three-minute gap to fourth place, Solberg only need do the same again tomorrow and a second 2007 podium will be his.
Wilson will head into tomorrow's final leg in the best position of his short WRC career and well within range of fourth placed Luis Perez Companc. He sits just 21.7 seconds behind the Argentine, in fifth. The 20-year-old put together another day of consistent driving which paid big dividends when he was promoted four places from his overnight position.
Tomorrow's final leg will offer competitors six testing stages to the west of Rally HQ before they return for the final stage and running of the fan-packed Obihiro super special.
"I am extremely happy with how things have gone for me today on my first time at this rally. My times have been very good and faster than I would have thought; I am pleased with how its all been working. The car feels really good and my confidence is getting even better. I didn't have a good feeling with the brakes on the last few stages and that's why Sordo was able to move further ahead. But I am happy with third position at the minute, it's more than I could have hoped for on this event on my first time here. I will try to keep this position tomorrow and gain some more points for the championship. A podium finish is extremely important for me and my sponsors."
"I am very disappointed with things today. We were in a strong podium position before the problem so it's quite a big loss for me. We had a hydraulic problem on the stage before and I had to use the manual gear change during the stage. When I saw Loeb stopped maybe I lost some concentration but when we turned into the corner the car went straight and understeered off. We hit a tree with the front of the car, spun around and blocked the stage. I was worried as Mikko was very close behind and I didn't want to get in his road so we got the car moved into the bushes very quickly. Hopefully there is still a chance of getting some manufacturer points tomorrow, the battle is close with Subaru so at the minute every point will count."
"It's been a reasonably good day and to finish inside the top five is fantastic for me. Again the stages have been very difficult with both mud for the first pass then the ruts for the second pass. It is very easy to make a mistake, as you can see from the leaderboard, and you really need to stay focused. I found it difficult to have the confidence to keep the speed up in the rutted sections, especially in the medium to fast speed corners. The car was jumping out of the ruts and made things very difficult. We haven't made any mistakes so far on this event and again tomorrow we will try and keep things steady in this position."
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson:
"Generally the Stobart team have performed well today and they are currently sitting with one of their best results this season with two cars inside the top five. It is fantastic for Henning to be lying in a strong third position on his first time at this event and he has had a very strong performance here today. Matthew also has had solid stage times on some stages that he has been competing on for the first time. Unfortunately Jari-Matti has disappointed with his mistake today especially after being in such a strong position. However, he has again demonstrated that he has the pace and potential to be at the top."
Stobart M-Sport Ford