Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson earned his best ever result and his first drivers' point at Rally Finland as he took eighth place. The young Briton climbed steadily through the field during the rally to bolster his position in the drivers' championship and earn good manufacturer
points for the team. Henning Solberg also added to the Stobart team's points tally as he took a manufacturer point despite competing under SupeRally conditions on Sunday.
One of the fastest and most demanding rallies on the WRC calendar, Rally Finland was dominated by local drivers. Five Finns finished inside the top ten, as they put their local knowledge to good use on the 345kms of high-speed stages, making Wilson's achievement even more impressive as he avoided any trouble on the final day to secure his best ever finish in four visits to the legendary event.
After the traditional opening Super Special Stage at the Killeri trotting track on Thursday night, 90 crews headed north-west of the Rally HQ in Jyvaskyla on Friday morning where two passes of a four-stage loop over the famed Finnish forest roads awaited them.
Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud were lying in seventh place after the Super Special, but on the opening stage of the day, the 22.29km Jukojarvi, the Norwegians lost ground on the leaders on the slippery gravel roads. With some minor changes made to his Ford Focus RS WRC during Friday's midday service, Solberg found his rhythm on the second pass moving up to sixth place by the end of the day, just 2.6s behind Matti Rantanen.
Meanwhile, Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin climbed steadily up the field on Friday morning from their overnight position of 13th. Spurred on by a battle with Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier, they gained confidence on the second pass of the stages. Ogier eventually prevailed in the fight, but Wilson edged victory over the Frenchman on the final Super Special stage of the day.
Wetter road conditions, coupled with the team's soft compound Pirelli Scorpion tyres, provided increased grip on Saturday morning, really suiting the British crew. Some faster stage times were rewarded with a move up to ninth place overall. Wilson looked set to post an excellent time on SS14 Leustu 2 to continue his climb up the standings, but he lost around 15 seconds when he was forced to pull over and restart the car after the ignition switch on his Ford Focus RS WRC was knocked off on landing from a big jump.
But while other drivers were suffering in the concentration-sapping conditions of the longest day of the rally, Wilson managed to produce a calm and reliable performance and was rewarded with a place in the points, finishing the day in eighth position.
Solberg was struck by bad luck on Saturday which ended his hopes of a strong finish. Having moved up to fifth place on the opening test of the day, his Rally Finland challenge ended on SS12 Himos as he sustained damage to the front suspension at a slow hairpin corner. The driveshaft on the Ford Focus RS was loosened leaving the car with no drive and forcing the Norwegian out of the rest of the day.
Returning to SupeRally on the final day, Solberg posted the third fastest time on the opening stage of the morning, signalling his determination to deliver manufacturer points for the team, which he did, eventually finishing in 30th place. Wilson meanwhile put all his efforts into reaching the finish in the points whilst gaining maximum experience on the demanding Finnish stages.
"It has been a really valuable learning experience and we always pick up more things here than at any other rally. We made changes to our notes after Rally Poland to make them more accurate on the wider roads and that has worked fairly well; it's made them more precise. It has been good to see that I'm improving and this is my best ever result here. I've gained a lot of experience of the new stages which will help me next year."
"We came to this rally aiming for another top-five and things were looking good but unfortunately part of the suspension broke and we had to retire at the start of the second day. With our aim not possible I had to focus on getting more points for the Stobart team. We tried our best for this and on the final day our times were good; it was also useful to have that extra driving ahead of Rally Australia."
Malcolm Wilson, team principal
"It has been a solid team performance on one of the hardest and most specialised events in the championship. Experience counts for so much here and both crews did a great job to bring the cars home and earn yet more manufacturer points for the Stobart team. It's a pity that Henning had to SupeRally as I believe that he could have achieved another top-five finish."