Stobart crews safely through tough Acropolis first day.
FIA World Rally Championship

BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, 1st June 2007

Leg 1 Report

All three Stobart VK M–Sport Ford crews have successfully made it through the opening leg of this demanding eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally.

Jari–Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila and Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud completed the day in top eight positions after a shaky start due to unsuitable tyre compound choices. After dropping some time on the opening two stages Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr fought back with a passion leaping from 17th to 13th overall by the end of the day.

Based north–west of Rally HQ at Athens Olympic Equestrian Centre, today’s stages posed a multitude of problems for crews throughout the leg. During the opening loop of stages road position was critical as loose gravel made conditions extremely slippery for the front–runners. Leg 1 was a challenging 109.42 kilometres of competitive action made up of seven stages under typically hot and humid weather conditions, air temperatures reaching up to 31°C.

Tyre choice became a major factor this morning as many teams elected too soft a tyre to what was required on the unexpectedly hard surface. With stage 9 cancelled due to environmental concerns the day was wrapped up with the second passing of the 15.2 kilometre Agia Sotira test.

Solberg began and finished his day’s rallying in a consistent manner setting times on each stage within the top eight. A fifth fastest was his best result with the Norwegian admitting he has to look at the set–up of his car in order to gain more speed over tomorrow’s tough leg; which sees two passes over the difficult 48 kilometre Agii Theodori stage.

Twenty–two year old Latvala was a different story. The young Finn set some top–five stage times matched with some not so paced efforts. The longest stage of the day, the 23.76 kilometre Thiva test, presented grip challenges as Latvala spun, losing valuable seconds trying to find a suitable part of the road to turn his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 around.

Losing over 20 seconds as a result, the determined Finn didn’t give up and marched on to set some good stage times and finish the day just 48 seconds behind current leader, BP–Ford’s Marcus Gronholm.

Wilson, too, started off erratically; stalling and over–shooting a junction all within the opening loop. With these problems put behind him, the young star came out a determined man after service and finished the closing test of leg 1 within the top ten. He is relishing the thought of a tough day tomorrow where physical fitness and endurance will play a major factor in the long,tough stages.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Jari–Matti Latvala said:
"Today has been quite mixed for me. This morning the feeling with the car was not so good and we slid off at one corner and also were wide on a few other places in one of the stages. But the stages this afternoon were definitely much better. We had a different tyre which was an improvement and the car felt more stable. In the middle stage this afternoon I lost more time to the leaders than any other stage. I don’t know why this was, I thought I was driving well, but maybe I was just too cautious. The last stage was very tough and hard on the car. We couldn’t back off and needed to go as hard as everyone else; but in the back of my mind was not to damage the car. I hoped that I would have had a better result at the end of the day than where I am now."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"I had a good afternoon once the road surface cleaned up on the second pass over the stages; but there were just a lot of stray rocks where I needed to be careful. This morning was a different story though and the roads were all very slippery. The car was moving a lot and braking was not easy. There was a few times when the car was touching the road this afternoon and it upset the rhythm. I think tomorrow will be a very long and hard day. The 48 kilometre stage will be a big challenge and I really think this stage is too long, especially in this heat; it’s not my favourite stage of the rally but we will be careful and try to keep the speed up."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"We had a promising performance today especially on the second pass over the stages. It was unfortunate that we lost time this morning with an overshoot and a stall; the grip on the stages was so unpredictable and we were caught–out on a downhill braking section. The car just wouldn’t slow down and we ended up losing about 15 seconds. The notes were working well in most places today but I have identified some areas where we could brush up on them. The last stage today was rough, we wanted to push to help our road position for tomorrow but I decided to back off slightly to make sure I didn’t damage the car for tomorrow. There is a lot of stage distance and I want to make sure my car is in the best possible shape."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"Today has been one of the most competitive and closely–fought events we have had for a while and it’s very encouraging to have Jari–Matti and Henning in points–scoring positions going into the second day. We have one of the toughest days in the whole championship coming tomorrow with two runs over a 48 kilometre stage. It was important for all of the team to keep the cars in good shape today for what lies ahead tomorrow. Jari–Matti wasn’t happy with his tyre choice this morning but it is very important for him to get to the finish and he must remember that. Matthew has bounced back this afternoon after dropping some time this morning and I’m happy with his performance and his position at the minute."

Leg 1 Leaderboard
1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 19m 16.0sec
2. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +8.3sec
3. C Atkinson/S Prevot AUS Subaru Impreza +9.0sec
4. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen C4 +9.7sec
5. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +10.3sec
6. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen C4 +10.7sec
7. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +45.2sec
8. J–M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS +48.3sec
9. M Stohl/I Minor A Citroen Xsara +1m 45.9sec
10. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia +2m 36.6sec
13. M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS +3m 13.6sec

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