Solberg stays strong for Stobart after tough Acropolis Rally

FIA World Rally Championship

BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, 3rd June 2007

Final Report

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford’s Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud have finished the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally of Greece in fifth position after a gruelling three days of rally action. It was a sterling effort by the Norwegian pair who helped add four points to their driver, and their team’s, championship campaigns.

Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr drove superbly to again finish in the top–ten. Jari–Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila put on an impressive display for most of the rally. However, a few unfortunate punctures on the ultra–tough Saturday stages saw them finish in a creditable twelfth spot.

True to its form the 54th running of this historical event was no doubt the most demanding in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship calendar to date. The loose, rocky surface combined with dry air temperatures in excess of 31įC made things tough for crews who battled through the sun–drenched conditions. Fitness definitely became a factor in this event especially during Saturday’s leg when competitors took on the monstrous, 48 kilometre Agii Theodori test. This stage proved to be a turning–point for many crews as its length and arduous conditions took their toll on several top WRC crews.

Spread evenly from Athens, on all sides of the compass, stages wound their way from costal settings to mountainous regions; coming to a close under the watchful eye of thousands of spectators in the Olympic Equestrian venue in Markopoulo. All Stobart drivers paid tribute to the excellent performance of their BF Goodrich g–Force tyres which stood–up amazingly to the extreme temperatures and razor–sharp rocks they encountered on a daily basis.

After finishing leg 1 in eighth position Latvala fell victim to the unbelievably harsh conditions on Saturday picking up a total of four punctures over both passes of the extremely hot and rocky, long stage; losing nearly twelve minutes in the process. It was an unfortunate end to his points–chase after showing good form on day 1 where he set several top–four stage results. To his credit the young Finn fought on today showing amazing speed winning the final main test of the event, his third WRC career stage win. Latvala is now relishing the opportunity to perform on home soil in Finland after the summer break.

Of all WRC crews Solberg was one of the most consistent performers throughout the rally and was justly rewarded with his fifth placing overall. Apart from stalling twice on the opening stage on Friday morning and some minor brake issues today, the Norwegian had no major dramas in his Ford Focus RS WRC06 during his Acropolis quest. This is now the third consecutive event Solberg has scored points and finished within the top–five crews. Driving here with a cautious approach has rewarded the 34–year–old who now lies sixth in the drivers’ championship, nine points ahead of seventh placed Chris Atkinson.

After a sluggish start Wilson began to race up the leader–board preying on a top–ten position by the end of leg 1. On Saturday morning the young Brit bruised his ribs on the opening test creating an uncomfortable ride during the lengthy stage. While he battled these problems his sensible approach to finish each day rewarded him with a tenth placing overall and more importantly, for the 20–year–old, valuable experience miles on this notoriously difficult event. The WRC now moves into its summer break and will re–start in August as competitors head to the rapid gravel roads of the Neste Oil Rally Finland.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Jari–Matti Latvala said:
"I’m glad to get to the finish of the rally but it has been one of the toughest for me. The last rally in Sardinia was one of my best ever days in the championship and, in contrast, day two of this rally was one of my hardest. We made the correct tyre choice for Sunday’s stages; I was confident with the tyres and very happy with how they performed. The car has been great and never gave us any problems at all. The stage conditions were very mixed and inconsistent with some hard base and also tricky loose gravel sections. I felt a little exhausted after the long stage on Saturday, after our problems with the punctures, and I just wanted to concentrate after this and put in some fast times. This has been one of my hardest rallies but I have learnt much from making it to the finish."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"It has been a very tough event and I had to use my head, be clever, and think about the best way to tackle the event. All of the drivers ahead of us have been testing a lot recently so this makes it an even better result for me. I had some problems with the brakes towards the end of the first stage on Sunday and also sometimes in the second stage and there were a few places where we only had rear brakes. The tyres worked well and the car generally felt good throughout the event. Sunday was an important day for us and we were able to maintain our position even though we had some small problems with the brakes; but we have got four points which helps a lot in the championship."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It’s fantastic to get to the end of the rally. It is a pity that the punctures on Saturday cost us a few positions but I’m very happy to have made it to the end of this classic event without any major problems. It has definitely been one of the hardest events I have competed in. We had a big moment on the second stage on Saturday which caused some drama for us. We came into a left–hand corner in fourth gear which was probably slightly too fast in our pace–notes. The car went up onto a bank on the outside of the corner and we just missed a ditch as well. We were lucky to get away unscathed."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"This rally has probably been one of the most difficult the Stobart team has encountered this year; due to the nature of the stages and the tough conditions. However, it has been another solid performance from Henning and he has collected significant points for himself and the team. Jari–Matti has learned more on this event than any others this year. Every rally has its unique challenges and he has proven once again that he has the pace; but this rally is also about tactics and thinking ahead. Matthew has put in a very positive performance again and I am really pleased with the progress he is starting to make. He has had another strong finish without any real mishaps and has punched in some impressive stage–times along the way."

Final Leaderboard
1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 3h 49m 22.6sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen C4 +38.6sec
3. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +1m34.1sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +2m41.3sec
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +4m52.7sec
6. C Atkinson/S Prevot AUS Subaru Impreza +6m31.7sec
7. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia +8m15.8sec
8. M Stohl/I Minor A Citroen Xsara +8m56.2sec
9. G Wilks/P Pugh GB Ford Focus RS +9m53.2sec
10. M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS +10m39.6sec
12. J–M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS +15m02.7sec

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