Flying Finn fifth as Stobart raids top–ten
FIA World Rally Championship

Rally New Zealand, 31 August–2 September 2007

Final Report

All three members of the Stobart VK M–Sport Ford rally team have successfully finished inside the top–ten at this weekend’s Rally New Zealand, round eleven of the FIA World Rally Championship. Pick–of–the–crop were Jari–Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila who were locked in a titanic battle with Australian Chris Atkinson all weekend, finishing up in fifth outright.

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr kept it cool for the team by both finishing in the top–ten along with Latvala. After losing several minutes on Saturday, Solberg battled back to pick up ninth while Wilson improved consistently over the three days to take tenth spot.

Hamilton’s Mystery Creek Event Centre was headquarters for this year’s event with stages based in some of the most picturesque scenery, throughout the Waikato region. The 353 kilometres of total stage distance included three passes over the spectator–friendly Mystery Creek super special, a highlight of the event and a deciding factor in the rally’s overall results.

The heavens opened up as the battles raged on during the final day of Rally New Zealand. For the first two days rain subsided to overnight drizzle keeping the roads fairly dry which benefited crews running slightly down the order as the front–runners were left to sweep the loose gravel from the hard–based surface. Leg 3 however was a change of fortune for front running competitors as the land of the long white cloud duly delivered a heavy downpour as the first car passed over the opening stage start–line. Choice of tyre was critical and the excellent surface information from BF Goodrich and accurate data from the team’s weather crews enabled correct tyre choices all weekend.

Latvala drove with the amazing form that has seen him lead two rallies already this season. The 22–year–old set a multitude of top–five stage times during the event including a couple in the top–three. His main concern over the three days was that his often flamboyant driving style could trouble him on the slippery roads so to counter this, the young Finn neatened up his style immensely over the three days, showing constant improvement on the time sheets.

It was not the best start for Solberg after collecting a double puncture on the opening stage meaning he had to run the second stage with the rear puncture in place. Leg 2 didn’t fair much better for the Norwegian when he had a high–speed moment, hitting a muddy bank with the front of his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06. The impact itself only lost Solberg a few seconds but the mud and plastic from a resulting broken bumper began to overheat the car when it became stuck in and around the radiator. This meant he andMenkerud had to stop twice to clear the impeding debris losing them over four minutes. Day 3 was better as he finished the event happy with the experience gained.

Twenty–year–old Wilson improved over the three days setting a raft of top–ten stage times including a seventh on leg 3’s opening Maungatawhiri test. The young Briton had quite a clean rally apart from a few spins and a big moment on the opening stages of the event when he came off the road at high speed through a fence and into a field. Fortunately the damage was mainly cosmetic but as a result the bonnet pins became dislodged which caused the bonnet to flap up and down on fast sections of stage 2. Wilson achieved his goal here to finish and gain valuable experience of the event with a top–ten placing to boot.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"I was disappointed with how the rally started for me on Friday when I lost all the time and this really put me in a bad position for the rest of the weekend. This meant we were running near the front and cleaning the road and even one or two cars make a difference here with the loose gravel. My pace has been quite good here though and when I had a good feeling with the car then I set some fast times. I was battling with my brother Petter for some of the rally so that shows that I have been going faster.We have also made some good improvements here and things are really starting to go in the right direction with the set–up."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Jari–Matti Latvala said:
"Obviously I am not very happy with losing the battle for fourth but looking at the bigger picture I can say that this has been my best performance of all year. I was able to consistently set competitive times with the top drivers all weekend and this is a big positive to take away from the rally. We didn’t make any big mistakes during the rally and the car and tyres both worked well for me. I changed my style of driving a bit here and tried to be less aggressive and smoother and this made a big difference; it was a great improvement. I have done a good job here and come away with some good points for the championship."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It has been great to get to the end of this difficult event and the experience has been fantastic. I’m annoyed with the mistakes from the first day as this really set me back and I was left with a difficult road position for the rest of the rally. The stages were so slippery and there weren’t many repeated stages so we were always cleaning the road. But the car has been fantastic and all of our tyre choices have been correct. This is quite a specialised event and the experience I got here is invaluable. Some of my times during the rally were very good and I was beating Stohl, who has much more experience than me, on a few stages."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"It has been an incredible performance from Jari–Matti and a pity that he didn’t get fourth position but he has put in some fantastic times on this rally. He is gaining valuable experience driving at this speed and it will serve him well for the remaining rounds this year. Again it’s great to have all three of the cars in the top ten, it really has been a solid team performance. Matthew has gone well here and it’s encouraging to see him finishing all of the stages on this tricky event. There wasn’t much Henning could do after his first day’s problems but he has had a sensible and safe drive to secure the final manufacturer point."

Final Leaderboard
1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen 3h 52m 53.9sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena +0.3sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +1m42.8sec
4. C Atkinson/S Prevot +2m32.3sec
5. J–M Latvala/M Anttila +2m36.9sec
6. D Sordo/M Marti +3m42.0sec
7. P Solberg/P Mills +3m54.7sec
8. U Aava/K Sikk +9m16.3sec
9. H Solberg/C Menkerud +9m54.6sec
10. M Wilson/M Orr +10m19.9sec

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