Healthy Serving of Turkey for Stobart
Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin finished in seventh position after a brutally tough fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Turkey where the young Cumbrian duo and team-mates, Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor, were forced to deal
with extremely rocky road conditions and a mixture of gravel and tarmac surfaces.
Thousands of enthusiastic fans flocked to the historical Sultanahment Square in the heart of Istanbul on Thursday evening to watch the ceremonial start of the sixth Rally Turkey. Several Turkish Government officials including the State Minister for Sport, Faruk Nafiz Ozak, were in attendance before the WRC drivers returned by ferry across the Bosphorus Strait to Rally HQ in Pendik.
The newly located event based in the Asian side of Istanbul included 321km of competitive stage distance over 21 tests. The special stages were very fast, wide and rough - but the predominantly gravel route also contained almost 50km of asphalt and meant that the Stobart M-Sport Ford team was forced to use various tyre changing options to find the best strategy to deal with the difficulty of driving on different surfaces.
Day 1 got off to a dramatic start as Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor were forced to retire after their Ford Focus RS WRC hit a tree stump, breaking its steering arm at approximately 13kms into stage 1. Matthew Wilson also encountered difficulties when his Ford Focus RS WRC veered wide on a sharp right-hand turn hitting two rocks but still managing to finish the first four stages in eighth position.
Friday afternoon saw a repeat of the morning's loop where the rough road surface caused even more problems for Wilson as he hit a pothole, damaging the vehicle's front right wheel and causing it to go out of line. The damage also affected the steering and cost the young Cumbrian crucial time as he was forced to slow down, dropping into ninth position behind Kimi Raikkonen
The final stage of the opening day was a super special stage held in Istanbul next to the Bosphorus Strait on the Asian side of Istanbul where thousands of spectators watched the WRC drivers compete around a specially made 2.20km circuit. After stage 9, Wilson finished the day with just 21.7 seconds between Formula 1 Champion Kimi Raikkonen
and Argentinean Rally Champion Federico Villagra making for an exciting battle for sixth position in Day 2.
The second full day started in sunny conditions approximately 60km north of Rally HQ where 37 of the 40 original entrants tackled two 72.91km loops of competitive stage distance. This was the toughest of the three-day event as it included the longest stage of the rally and six of the eight tests contained both gravel and asphalt surfaces.
Solberg returned under SupeRally regulations and started the morning on fine form when he recorded some extremely fast times including a time 1.2 s faster than leader, Sebastien Ogier, in stage 11. In the same stage, team-mate, Matthew Wilson also recorded an excellent time beating Raikkonen, by 12 seconds and Villagra, by 15 seconds. This helped close the gap between the three drivers where an enthralling battle for sixth place continued.
The Stobart team's luck ran out when they had to make two passes over the longest and toughest stage of the rally which consisted of 27.17km next to the Black Sea. In the morning test, Solberg hit a ditch, spun and had to change a puncture which cost him nearly three minutes. Matthew Wilson also encountered problems as he approached a junction after a blind crest and spun his car - this mishap widened the gap between the young Cumbrian and Federico Villagra to 19.8 seconds.
The same stage during the afternoon proved just as troublesome for the Stobart team as the sharp rocks and rough surfaces played havoc with the durable Pirelli Scorpion tyres. Despite Henning Solberg suffering from a puncture at the end of Stage 17 he still managed to finish the stage seventh-fastest.
A heavy downpour of rain on Saturday evening meant that the first two stages of Day 3 comprising of 38.08km were cancelled due to extremely muddy conditions. During the final four stages, Solberg suffered from two more punctures but Wilson took advantage of Dani Sordo's crash in Stage 21 and finished in seventh position and, due to SupeRally penalties in Day 1, Solberg finished 25th overall.
Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team leave Turkey with a healthy haul of 12 points from an extremely tough rally in Turkey and will be looking to produce even more points when they travel to New Zealand next month.
Other Rally News
The Citroen Total Word Rally Team dominated Rally Turkey as Sebastien Loeb
finished 54.5 seconds ahead of Petter Solberg. Dani Sordo had an unfortunate final day as he crashed in Stage 21 causing him to drop out of the top ten. Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block was forced to retire from Rally Turkey in Day 1 but re-entered the second day under SupeRally Regulations. The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Mikko Hirvonen finished in third position, 48.9 seconds adrift of Petter Solberg in second. His team-mate Jari Matti Latvala had an unfortunate second day where he rolled his car and knocked him out of the top ten. Latvala finished in eighth position.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It's been a hard rally, the stages were really tough on Saturday and the punctures we picked up knocked us out of the battle with Villagra and Raikkonen. I'm glad to have got to the end though and was fortunate today to move up a place after Dani [Sordo] crashed out. I'm hoping to repeat my top five positioning from Jordan when we head over to New Zealand next month."
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"My speed has been very good on most of the stages, especially on the sections that are wide and fast -- those have been the best for me. The hardest part of the rally was on Saturday when we had to try and avoid the big rocks on the stages. After our problem on Friday when we bent the steering arm, the main concern was to get the car to the end of the rally and pick up some manufacturer points."
Stobart M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"Every driver apart Sebastien Loeb
has had some kind of problem in this event and it's quite an achievement for both Stobart cars to get to the finish. They have both had problems which have knocked them back and cost time but the experience of these tough conditions and rocky stages will stand them in good stead for the future."