Andersson Secures Solid Start for Stobart in Bulgaria
New Stobart M-Sport Ford team-mate, Per-Gunnar Andersson and co-driver Jonas Andersson, put in a strong performance in Bulgaria over the weekend as the duo contested the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship
in a Ford Focus RS WRC for the first time.
The 30-year-old Swedish driver took a cautious approach in the opening day but steadily improved during the three-day event producing a series of impressive stage times in a new car and road surface he has not driven on since Rallye de France in 2008.
Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin had not driven on asphalt in their Ford Focus RS WRC since Rally de Espana last year and the duo struggled to adapt to the fast, tarmac road surfaces. However, at the end of day one, Wilson had moved up a ranking and finished the day in ninth position. Andersson finished the end of day one in a comfortable seventh position overall.
Changeable weather on day two meant the Stobart crews started SS5 with different tyres as Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin opted for soft compound Pirelli PZero tyres whereas team-mates, P-G Andersson/Jonas Andersson, chose hard compound tyres.
Both drivers reported that Saturday's road conditions were dirty and their Ford Focus RS WRCs struggled in several wet patches and fog towards the end of the stage. Andersson struggled with grip on the slippery road surface on SS5 as a result of using hard tyres but despite this, completed the stage 5.2 seconds ahead of Wilson.
Andersson steadily improved his times throughout SS6 and finished the 18.13km stage sixth-fastest overall, 0.4 seconds ahead of BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen and 1.2 seconds quicker than Raikkonen. Wilson was less fortunate on SS6 when the young Briton incurred a ten second penalty for a jump start when their car's launch system malfunctioned.
The final stage on Saturday morning was cancelled as spectators blocked the finish and delayed the morning's proceedings by over 50 minutes. This was disappointing for Andersson whose hard tyres would have suited the stage conditions perfectly. However, changed weather conditions for SS8 meant the Swedish driver adopted a more confident driving approach and significantly improved his stage times, completing the afternoon's opening 27.46km stage over one minute faster than he did on the first pass.
Team-mates Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin continued to use soft compound Pirelli PZero tyres in the afternoon but they proved tough on the fast, flowing tarmac in SS7 so they made a last minute decision to swap to the hard compound tyres for the final two stages of the day. Both drivers completed the final stages on Saturday with no major problems and consolidated their positions safely inside the top ten.
Sunshine greeted the Stobart crews for the final day of Rally Bulgaria and both crews opted for Pirelli's hard compound PZero tyres in an attempt to conquer the increasingly hot asphalt road surfaces. The conditions bode well with Andersson who was sixth-fastest in SS11, just 5.8 seconds off Hirvonen. The quick stage time meant that the gap between Andersson in seventh and BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala in sixth position had been reduced to just under a minute.
Wilson encountered no major problems on the final day and drove sensibly to consolidate his ninth place position whilst team-mate Andersson finished seventh overall, unable to catch up on Latvala in the penultimate stages.
After a tough adjustment to the first all-tarmac round of the season, the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team leave Rally Bulgaria with eight points and remain fourth in the manufacturers' championship table.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"I struggled this weekend as it took me longer than I thought to get used to the feeling of driving on tarmac. It's been a long time since I'd driven on asphalt and the stages here are very, very fast. It's been a good learning curve for me. The remaining three tarmac rallies should be better for us though - we know some of the stages and I think the car will work better for us. I'll be looking at the data from this rally with my engineers over the next fortnight to see how I can improve my performance on tarmac going forward."
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver P-G Andersson said:
"I really enjoyed myself this weekend and by yesterday [Saturday], I was feeling much more confident with the handling of the car. I was really pleased with some of my split times on both Saturday and today [Sunday]. I had a few minor problems with my pace notes this morning but drove safe this afternoon to ensure I wouldn't make any silly mistakes that could cost me valuable time. I'm just really happy with how everything went and delighted to have been given the chance to drive the [Ford] Focus for this event."
Stobart M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"I'm really pleased with how P-G has performed in the Focus this weekend. He's been very sensible and had a mature first drive, gradually getting used to the car and making steady progress. He improved his times significantly on Saturday afternoon and did well to keep up with some of the other, more experienced drivers. Matthew also put in a solid performance this weekend - it's been a long time since he's driven on tarmac so it's only natural that it took him a bit of time to adjust to the new road surface."