Poland - Stobart M-Sport Ford - Day One
The Stobart M-Sport Ford team are well-placed to close the gap on leaders Citroen in the Manufacturers' Championship as Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson moved into strong points-scoring positions at the end of Day One at Rally Poland,
the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Solberg is up to fifth place overall while Wilson is lying in seventh. Meanwhile, local hero Krzysztof Holowczyc gives Stobart a trio of cars in the top ten with his ninth position.
The rally kicked off in style with over 10,000 fans flocking to Mikolajki to watch last night's super special stage and the locals turned out in force again today. Huge crowds flooded the Service Park and tens of thousands of vocal supporters cheered on their heroes as they enjoyed the first FIA World Rally Championship event in their country since 1973.
Solberg, Wilson and Holowczyc were among the 48 starters to tackle 113kms of immensely fast stages over two passes of a compact three-stage loop close to the host town. The forest roads presented new challenges for the drivers with tree stumps replacing rocks as the hidden danger for the cars. The drivers' concentration was constantly tested as the course switched between wide, fast-flowing roads and narrow tracks.
Solberg is locked in a battle with younger brother Petter as he looks to maintain his one-point advantage in the drivers' standings. On the opening stages of the day the Norwegian, with co-driver Cato Menkerud, struggled with the feeling of their car after failing to find the right set-up on the Ford Focus RS WRC during Thursday's shakedown to match the conditions of this new rally.
But the Stobart team made some minor changes to the car during the midday service and Solberg posted some stunning times on the second pass of the fast, sandy stages. Three consecutive fourth-place finishes left him lying just 6.9 seconds behind his brother with fourth place firmly in his sights.
Wilson is also battling for position as he chases down Citroen Junior Team driver Sebastien Ogier. The young Briton has posted consistent top ten times throughout the day and his measured approached to the tricky, high-speed stages has been rewarded as he moved up to seventh place by the end of Day One. Co-driver Scott Martin has previous experience of Rally Poland and his knowledge has helped Wilson as he fights to catch Frenchman Ogier.
Former Polish Rally Champion Holowczyc put his local knowledge to good use as he climbed up into the top ten places after the first day of action. He posted the seventh-fastest time on SS3 Planki, but a spin on the last stage of the morning, SS4 Paprotki where he stalled the engine, lost the Pole around 20 seconds.
On the second pass, Holowczyc maintained the good pace that he had shown on the opening tests of the day and eighth place on the final stage, the 33.17km Paprotki, cemented his spot inside the top ten and leaves him within striking distance of the points, lying just 8.3 seconds behind eighth-place Conrad Rautenbach.
Day Two features similar terrain as the crews head east of Mikolajki, taking in 149.44kms around the Mazurian Lake District. Driver concentration levels will again be crucial with four stages over 30kms in length.
"It's great to get through the first day of this new event with no problems. The stages are awesome, mega-fast and really good to drive. We're losing out a bit on the narrow sections as the roads are softer and more rutted and it's hard to commit to the ruts at those high speeds. But it's been a good first day and now we know what conditions to expect and the levels of grip for tomorrow."
"We dropped some time on SS5 when we slid into a ditch briefly, but we had a great time on the last stage finishing just behind Dani Sordo which gives us a lot of confidence for tomorrow. It's been a tough day and I've struggled with the feeling of the car, but during service the mechanics made it stiffer and that has helped this afternoon."
"This morning went well for us and we had a good start. It was fantastic to see lots of fans cheering for us. I was very surprised with the roads for the second pass this afternoon as I had expected the conditions to be much worse. The car feels strong and we don't plan to make any changes to it. We've had a good run today after getting into the rhythm this morning and I'm really pleased with the way our splits improved this afternoon."
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson:
"All of our crews and cars have performed well today and the two nominated drivers are in a very good position for tomorrow. It's great to see Henning in an exciting battle with Petter. He improved well over the second pass today to finish in an excellent top five position. Again we have seen today how new stages can catch out even the best drivers, but Matthew and Henning have both made a very positive start to the rally."