Rough ride for Stobart, Acropolis leader–board rocked
FIA World Rally Championship

BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, 2nd June 2007

Leg 2 Report

After one of the most difficult day’s rallying in 2007, the Stobart VK M–Sport Ford team have two crews in the top–ten after leg 2 of the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally. Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud are the top placed Stobart crew ending the day in fifth position overall.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr drove sensibly all day finishing tenth while team–mates Jari–Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila were not so lucky after three separate punctures on one test dented what was shaping up to be quite a good result for the Finnish pair.

The 48.88 kilometre Agii Theodori stage proved to be the most top–ten–influential so far this season. This morning’s pass redefined the leaderboard turning a ten second difference – which divided the top six drivers after leg 1 – into an incredible margin of two minutes.

Over the second pass this afternoon every top crew returned with no tread left on their tyres, further insinuating the harshness of this monster stage. Remote service, a further four kilometres from the end of Agii Theodori, was a saviour for many crews battling from multiple punctures and other incurring damages.

The dry, hot Greek conditions once again flourished throughout the day as competitors tackled 146 kilometres over eight stages, most to the west of Athens in the area around Korinthos. Temperatures peaked at 31°C in the shade of Acropolis while ground temperatures on stage rose to a mammoth 41°C.

Solberg didn’t quite find his groove today but cautious and steady driving rewarded him with the advancement of two overall places from yesterday’s final classification. His consistent effort now puts him right in the points–hunt as he looks to push tomorrow; sitting just 36 seconds off fourth position.

On the second run over Agii Theodori today the Norwegian elected to run with the new BFGoodrich g–Force Gravel ’10’ tyre, an extra hard compound which proved to be the perfect choice as he completed the stage without any problems and in a creditable fourth position.

For 22–year–old Latvala it was unfortunately not the case. Electing to run with a slightly softer tyre to his counterpart, he picked up three punctures on the way. This stage also dented the Finn’s chances earlier in the day. He lost three minutes to a puncture during the morning pass when the mousse system in his tyre failed to operate correctly. In total Latvala lost approximately 12 minutes to punctures over the day and will start tomorrow’s final leg in 13th overall, one place outside a manufacturer point scoring position.

After suffering bruised ribs, caused by a heavy impact on the opening stage, Wilson battled away to finish the leg in tenth position overall. The 22–year old was in a fierce battle with fellow Brit Guy Wilks all day until a tyre exploded on the second pass of the long test forcing him to switch his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 into road mode and drive cautiously for the final three kilometres of the stage.

After beating Wilks over two of the final three stages today Wilson will be looking to attack the 45 second gap that separates him from his fellow countryman and ninth position.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Jari–Matti Latvala said:
"The car felt a bit too hard today and because of this it was difficult to drive. We got a puncture halfway through the first stage and the mousse system didn’t work properly so we had to stop and change the tyre and lost nearly three minutes. The second stage this morning was quite short and didn’t go too well for us, we went wide on a few corners. The next two stages however went really well but at the start of the last stage we hit a big jump and landed on only one wheel and nearly rolled over, it was a bit of a scare for me. It was a really hard day, one of the hardest in the championship. I felt a little exhausted after the long stage with our problems with the punctures and I just wanted to concentrate after this and put in some fast times. I did this and got a third fastest time; this was the main positive thing for the day."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"Today went quite well for me. I tried to be smart and go as fast as possible. There was a lot of big rocks in the last main stage and when I saw them I thought the car should not go over them; so I lost about three seconds trying to drive around them. I really should have gone over the top but I was also thinking of looking after the car. I chose a harder compound tyre for the long stage which seemed to work well for me. The tyre wasn’t a fast choice for the stage but it definitely was the best choice. We also came to the end of the stage with no tread on the tyres and towards the end of it we lost the steering completely and the car wouldn’t turn. Even with the problems the car felt good and now the fight is on and now I will push harder."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"I finished that stage (SS14) with absolutely no tread left on any of my tyres and about five kilometres from the end it was so bad that we had no turn–in at all! We were just losing all grip and when the front right tyre exploded we switched the car to road mode and just cruised to the end of the stage; not to damage the car any further. It was frustrating as we were four seconds up on Guy Wilks before it happened. Problems aside, it has been a reasonably good day overall. It’s just a shame we dropped so much time to Wilks with our puncture or else there would have been a really good fight on the cards for tomorrow. When I had no problems my times were good and things felt to be going well with the car."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"This has been an extremely difficult day indeed and it’s really positive that all three of our cars have finished these two tough legs. At the start of today there was only ten seconds separating the top–six and now there are 40 between the top–two. Jari–Matti was caught out today by lack of experience but he picked the pace up again after his problems and set some fast times; this is all part of the learning process for him and he has handled it well. I am really pleased with how Matthew has performed today also and his stage times and split times have been impressive in the stages where he had a clean run. He’s improving all the time and finishing today’s tough stages was another achievement for him."

Leg 2 Leaderboard
1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 3h 00m 22.3sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen C4 +43.3sec
3. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +1m07.6sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +2m32.1sec
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +3m09.3sec
6. C Atkinson/S Prevot AUS Subaru Impreza +5m25.0sec
7. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia +6m55.4sec
8. M Stohl/I Minor A Citroen Xsara +7m32.0sec
9. G Wilks/P Pugh GB Ford Focus RS +7m59.6sec
10. M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS +8m44.8sec
13. J–M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS +14m43.6sec

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