Cyprus - Stobart M-Sport Ford - Day 1 review
Stobart M-Sport Ford rally team driver Matthew Wilson is in contention to pick up more points in the FIA World Rally Championship after a solid start to the Cyprus Rally where he is lying in eighth place at the end of Day One.
teammate Henning Solberg will be hoping for a better day on Saturday after crashing out of the action before the first stage had even begun.
After Thursday's ceremonial start in Limassol, where thousands of fans were entertained by Greek pop star Sakis Rouvas as they turned out to see the rally cars, the real action got underway on the roads to the northwest of Limassol as the drivers tackled the challenge of racing on tarmac with gravel tyres.
With no pre-event testing under their belts both Wilson and Solberg had six runs each in Thursday's shakedown to prepare for the rigours of Day One, but Solberg did not get the chance to use that experience as his first day ended before it had begun.
The Norwegian will return to action on Saturday morning as a SuperRally entrant after his hopes of scoring good points in this round of the WRC were brought to an abrupt halt by a collision with a non-competing vehicle on his way to the first stage.
A pickup truck pulled out in front of Solberg as he was travelling from the service park to SS1 and he sustained damage to the front of his car which affected the cooling system. Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud, along with the driver of the other vehicle, were all unhurt in the incident but Solberg could not repair the car out on the road and had to retire from Day One.
Meanwhile, Wilson, who has performed solidly picking up points in both rounds of the WRC so far this season, had a steady start to the rally. At the end of the morning stages Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin were lying in eighth place overall but Wilson had some concerns about the brakes as he neared the end of the 29.4 kilometre SS3.
The Stobart driver started the 30-kilometre SS4 cautiously as he tried to conserve the brakes on his Ford Focus RS WRC, finishing in tenth place on the stage. And as the rain started to come down on the final two stages of the day he maintained his position and stayed in contention with the rest of the leading pack for Saturday's gravel stages despite suffering a recurrence of the brake problem that started on SS3.
It has been a particularly busy event for the Stobart mechanics who, along with making the repairs to Solberg's car, must adjust the settings on both Focus RS cars switching to a full gravel set-up and removing the brake cooling system that was fitted to the cars especially for the asphalt stages of the rally today.
Saturday sees the rally switch from the asphalt roads of Day One to the more familiar gravel for which the Cyprus Rally has been known in the past. The action moves further up into the Troodos Mountains north of Limassol where the drivers will cover 115.6 kilometres over a further five stages.
"It is really, really disappointing as I had a good feeling coming into the rally. I was driving steadily to the start and a vehicle that had pulled over to the side of the road suddenly changed direction and steered into the path of my car. I tried to repair it but there was too much damage to the cooling system. I hope to get back tomorrow but my hopes of a good result are gone. Now I just have to hope to pick up manufacturer points. My plan tomorrow is to go out and set some good times; my chance of getting good driver points has gone but I would like to set some fast times."
"Today was very difficult. It was hard to know how to drive on asphalt with the gravel tyres. It was good to end the day in the points and to be able to concentrate on the gravel stages tomorrow. I've really liked this rally in the past so I hope tomorrow I'll be able to increase my speed. Hopefully there will not be too much rain tonight so that the stages stay the same as they were on the recce. It was frustrating to have an issue with the brakes today and that meant that we lost quite a bit of time. There were a few heavy showers on the last stage but that didn't really affect the grip."
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson:
"It's been a difficult start for the Stobart team and it has put them on the back foot for the rest of the rally. Matthew has been steady today though, I know he didn't feel at home on the stages today but I'm sure he will be back in the groove tomorrow on the classic gravel roads. I think we will see him closer to the leaders. Today was bitterly disappointing for Henning but the car is fully prepared for tomorrow and he will be keen to punch in a few good times and there's still a chance of him collecting some points for the team."