Poland - Stobart M-Sport Ford - Day Two
The Stobart M-Sport Ford team are well placed to capture a superb points haul at Rally Poland with all three drivers lying in the top eight going into the final day.
Henning Solberg ended Day Two in sixth place after an epic
battle with brother Petter and Citroen Junior Team driver Sebastien Ogier which kept the tens of thousands of spectators enthralled throughout the day.
Meanwhile Matthew Wilson has maintained his seventh place with a measured performance on the tricky Polish stages, and local hero Krzysztof Holowczyc moved up to eighth overall.
Day Two took the 47 starting crews east and north of Rally HQ in Mikolajki for the longest day of the rally: 149.44kms over two passes of an ultra-fast three-stage loop. As on Day One, all of the stages were high-speed tests for the drivers alternating between open, wide roads and narrow, forest tracks around the Mazurian Lake District.
After struggling with the set-up of their Ford Focus RS WRC on Day One, Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud found a great rhythm on the opening stages of the day, enjoying the changes made to the car by the Stobart team overnight. With his brother Petter firmly in his sights, Solberg lifted his game to hunt down the Citroen Xsara aiming to maintain familial advantage in the drivers' championship.
On the final stage of the morning, the 30.09km Wydminy test, he was nine seconds faster than Petter moving him ahead in the siblings' battle. But fast-charging Frenchman Ogier put paid to his hopes of moving up the standings.
The battle for fourth place escalated in the afternoon with the initiative changing hands constantly throughout the long, challenging stages. Solberg closed the gap to Ogier to just 0.3 seconds on the penultimate stage of the day, but on SS13 he was beaten by both the Frenchman and his brother to slip to sixth.
With less than 10 seconds separating the three crews the final day promises to be a thriller with points and pride at stake.
Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin again demonstrated their trademark consistency as they maintained their place in the points despite Wilson struggling with an uncomfortable back injury. He could not match the searing pace of Ogier on the opening loop, leaving him without another car to chase in the afternoon pass.
The front-right Pirelli Scorpion tyre came off the rim in deep ruts just three kilometres from the end of the final stage of the day and Wilson lost valuable seconds, but he still remains well-placed to take more important points for the Stobart team.
Former European Rally Champion Holowczyc used his local knowledge wisely as he moved up from his overnight position of ninth. Throughout the rally the local man has been willed on by the vast crowds gathered out on the stages to catch a glimpse of one of the most popular drivers in Poland.
Holowczyc and co-driver Lukasz Kurzeja moved into the points midway through the morning loop as they outpaced Citroen Junior Team driver Conrad Rautenbach on the fast, sweeping roads of SS9 Gawliki.
With teammate Wilson just 25 seconds ahead going into the final five stages, the Pole will have a target to chase tomorrow.
The last day of action is made up of 86.86kms over two stages which will run twice before the drivers return to take on the 2.5km super special stage in Mikolajki in front of another enthusiastic sell-out crowd.
"I have been pushing as hard as I can all day and I know that Petter is really pushing too. I am really enjoying the battle, it's been a fun day and I am very happy with the car because it's been working well today. Tomorrow I have to concentrate on being more precise so that I can find that extra edge that will help me get back up to fourth place. That is my aim for the rally and I won't give up trying."
"It has been a difficult day but I think that we have learned a lot. We need to work on our pacenotes so that we can be more consistent in the narrow sections as that's where we have lost out today. But it's starting to feel quite good. It is mega-fast out there and the pace is so hot at the front that it's easy to get dejected when you are not involved in a battle for position. But the times we've been producing have actually been very good so overall I'm pleased and hoping to keep it up tomorrow. My back has been hurting a bit, especially when I brake hard, but it's not been too bad during the stages when I'm strapped in."
"I am really pleased with how it has gone today. I do not have as much experience in a WRC car as the other drivers so it has taken me some time to get used to it. I spoke to Malcolm Wilson last night and he advised me to be more precise and less aggressive and that has worked very well for me today. I am now able to push and I am really enjoying the fast stages. To have so many fans here is incredible and they are really pushing me to drive well. I'm in a points-scoring position now and I hope that I can maintain my momentum for the final day and give the fans something great to cheer about."
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson:
"The Stobart team have had another strong day and it's been great to see Henning locked in a fantastic battle for fourth place; there's just been seconds separating those three drivers all day. It's very positive to see the three Stobart crews all in drivers' points positions and it just shows how well they have adapted to these very fast conditions. Matthew has had a solid day and his times have still been good compared to the leaders, who are pushing hard in this hot battle for the lead."