Solberg strides to fifth in frantic Finnish battle
FIA World Rally Championship

Neste Oil Rally Finland, 2–5 August 2007

Leg 2 Report

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud have driven an excellent day 2 of Neste Oil Rally Finland, heading into the final leg in a comfortable fifth position. This effort keeps the Stobart VK M–Sport Ford rally team well in the hunt for strong manufacturer points on this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

With Jari–Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila watching from the sidelines after roll cage damage in leg 1 ended their Rally Finland campaign, Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr stepped up for their Stobart team by making up three overnight places to finish leg 2 in eleventh position overall.

Today’s leg has been the longest, in competitive stage mileage, so far in the 2007 championship. Stages ran to the south of Rally HQ, in Jyväskylä, as competitors took on nine high–flowing competitive tests which included the classic Ouninpohja challenge.

Road conditions held together well as stages offered a mix of extremely hard and grippy roads, and a loose and quite slippery surface. Unlike leg 1, weather conditions were perfect with clear blue skies under a bright sunshine, as temperatures rose to a top of 26 degrees.

Keeping in tune with its reputation Rally Finland again claimed some big names with four of last night’s top–ten retiring from today’s leg with a variety of problems. Tyre choice, too, played a bit–part in the results as morning temperatures rose dramatically from the opening Kaipolanvuori stage at 07:17.

Solberg struggled to find his rhythm in the morning session setting times unreflective of his overall position at the time. Coming into service F the Norwegian made some changes to his suspension to try and improve the precision of his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 which was causing him to lose time over the morning loop.

In a valiant effort his Stobart team altered the settings to perfection and Solberg began to show his true potential, finishing the next six stages all with top–five stage results. This effort included a third placing on the 18.56 kilometre Himos test where he made it a Ford 1–2–3 as BP Ford’s Marcus Grönholm and Mikko Hirvonen took first and second places respectively.

Team–mate Wilson was also in a similar boat, starting off his day 2 campaign in a slowish manner which was not helped by a spin on the opening pass of Ouninpohja costing the youngster 20 seconds. This however did not affect the British driver who showed an improved pace to finish his second pass over the famous stage with a top–ten placing. He also had one of the biggest moments in his WRC career as the car went light over a fast crest on stage 18; his natural talent bringing the situation under control and enabling the crew to come away from the incident unscathed.

Tomorrow’s short and final leg takes competitors over three testing stages located north east of Rally Finland’s Jyväskylä base. As this rally has shown already, anything can happen so it will be a full concerted effort by the two remaining Stobart crews who look to maintain their current event positions.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"We made some small changes in service and these helped the car feel much more precise and I was a lot more comfortable and confident this afternoon than on the stages this morning. There was some loose gravel on the stages today, on the first pass, but we coped with it much better after the changes in service. The BF Goodrich tyres worked very well and the grip was fantastic in the afternoon. I took the last stage carefully as it was very difficult but I am very happy with how today went. It takes time to learn how to drive a different car for the first time on a rally and to find out the best driving style to use. I said yesterday this is a dangerous sport and it takes a while to get your full confidence and to go fast. Hopefully we can carry the pace into tomorrow’s stages but our speed today means we have a comfortable gap so wont need to take any risks."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"When I’m cleaning the road the car is difficult to handle because it is moving around a lot on the loose surface. Ouninpohja went ok and we pushed a lot harder the second time round in the sections that I remembered well from the first pass. We had a spin on stage 18 as well; it was a long right–hand corner that tightens to a junction, I came into it slightly offline in the loose gravel and knew I wasn’t going to make the turn so slid the car into a clearing on the left which was the safest option. The engine stopped but we restarted quickly and managed to get away with it. Today was one of my most difficult days of rallying as I struggled with the setup of the car and it was under–steering a lot on the loose gravel. I could just about cope with this on the wide roads but the narrower ones made things difficult. We will make some changes tonight to hopefully fix this for tomorrow’s stages."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"I’m really happy with how Henning has performed today, he has improved his pace well and set some good times this afternoon. He seems to be more comfortable and confident with the car now and he’s moved into a solid fifth overall position. If things go well tomorrow, and he maintains this, then he will collect some valuable points and move up a couple of places in the drivers’ championship. Matthew has suffered by running at the front of the field and he has struggled with the loose gravel on the stages. It has been a difficult day for him, he has admitted this already, but at the end of the day he needs to learn to deal with these tricky conditions. He’s still getting the mileage completed on this very specific event which is extremely important."

Leaderboard after leg 2
1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 2h 36m 45.2sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +20.4sec
3. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen C4 +1m00.5sec
4. C Atkinson/S Prevot AUS Subaru Impreza +2m41.3sec
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Ford Focus RS +3m59.1sec
6. X Pons/X Amigo E Subaru Impreza +6m28.7sec
7. U Aava/K Sikk EE Mitsubishi Lancer +6m41.6sec
8. M Östberg/O Unnerud N Subaru Impreza +8m01.9sec
9. G Wilks/P Pugh GB Ford Focus RS +8m56.9sec
10. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZE Skoda Fabia +9m27.0sec
11. M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS +10m08.6sec

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