Australia : Stobart M-Sport Ford - Leg 1
The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team mechanics came into their own after Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc hit early problems on the opening leg of Rally Australia in Perth today.
The Cumbrian-based outfit refettled both Ford
Focus RS WRC 06s in record time to ensure Wilson and Companc would be ready to start leg two after their early departures on today's opening leg.
The rally officially started last night, with a brace of runs around the two-kilometre Gloucester Park trotting track. Companc/Jose Maria Volta and Wilson/Michael Orr both held comfortable top 10 positions after the second stage, with the Argentine crew returning to the driving seat of their Ford Focus RS WRC 06 in sixth position this morning.
The mainstay of today's leg took place 100 kilometres south of the rally's Perth base, around the village of Dwellingup. After a service back in Perth, the cars tackled two classic Rally Australia stages – Beraking and Flynns – before returning to the host city for another two attempts at the Perth City Super test. Temperatures peaked at 27 degrees during the opening day with unbroken sunshine throughout.
Wilson started the morning in tenth place, but retired after six kilometres of the Murray North test, his Focus RS WRC 06 was out of leg one.
The 19-year-old Cumbrian cut a right-hand corner too tightly, clipped a rock with the right-front wheel and damaged the transmission and suspension too much to continue. It was the same rock which rally leader Marcus Gronholm
had hit minutes earlier. The Finn rolled his Ford, but continued with the loss of 10 minutes.
Companc made it through the opening stage, dropping one place to Xavier Pons, the stand-in at the Kronos team for double world champion Sebastien Loeb
. Companc failed to make it through the day's second test, however. He slipped off the road 4.1 kilometres into the stage. The crew were unable to get the car back onto the road and retired from the leg. Wilson starts first on the road tomorrow, with Companc third.
However both Wilson and Companc contested the Perth City Super Special tonight, as a demonstration only for the packed stadium of eager rally fans.
Tomorrow's route will take the crews to the infamous Bannister stages south-east of Perth, before they repeat the Flynns and Beraking tests in the afternoon and Perth City Super for the final time in the evening.
“This was driver error, pure and simple. It was quite a deceptive place that caught us out – not somewhere we had marked in the notes. It was a slow right-hand corner with a rock on the inside. The rock wasn't big and we hadn't seen it in the recce. We came through the corner in the sunshine and there it was – you could see it clearly.
“I was committed to the corner by then, though. We clipped it on full lock and the impact pulled the driveshaft out and broke the track control arm. The impact also spun the car through 360 degrees. That was the end of that. It's so disappointing. I was just starting to get into a good rhythm. We'd had a bit of an overshoot earlier in the stage, but after that things were starting to click and I was getting a bit more used to the surface. The car felt fantastic. It's so frustrating to be standing on the sidelines when we could and should be out on the stages.”
Luis Perez Companc
“The conditions in stage four were so difficult. Before we went off, I had already had two moments. I left the road after running wide in a left-hander. I hit a rock on the outside of the corner with a rear wheel and that sent us across the road and down a bank on the other side. The car dropped onto the drivers' side and came to rest against a tree.
“There was really not much damage to the car at all. The big problem was that there were only a couple of spectators around to help, so there was no chance of getting it back onto the track. Now I really understand why people talk about this rally being so difficult – the conditions are incredible. We're back tomorrow, which is good. I like the Saturday stages more, so I will try to push hard. At the same time, running third on the road is going to be tough as we will be sweeping all of the loose gravel aside for the cars coming along behind us.”
Malcolm Wilson, Team Principal
“The saving grace for Matthew is that he's had his problem in the same place that Marcus [Gronholm] had his this year and Petter Solberg had his two seasons ago. That's no excuse for what happened, he made a mistake and he's held his hands up to that. He has been unlucky in that he's hit the suspension when the car's been at its weakest point – with full lock-on. The important thing now is to get the car fixed and get him ready for tomorrow. The same goes for Luis. It was unfortunate what happened to him, but that's the nature of this sport. These kind of things can and often do happen. Both of the cars will be back and fighting again tomorrow, but the road position they're in is going to make conditions testing for them again.”
Press release Stobart M-Sport Ford