Solberg and Wilson secure best ever WRC results for Stobart
FIA World Rally Championship

Rally Japan, 26–28 October 2007

Final Report

Both Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr have scored their best ever results in the FIA World Rally Championship, helping their Stobart VK M–Sport Ford rally team strike back to within two points of Subaru in the Manufacturers’ Championship, at this weekend’s Rally Japan.

This 14th round of the 2007 season has seen Solberg finish on the podium with an equal best third place while Wilson has smashed his best ever finish by coming home one position behind in fourth. After retiring on day 2, team–mates Jari–Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila were able to restart the final day under SupeRally rules and remarkably pickup the final manufacturer point for the Stobart team.

In one of the most exciting events in recent years, Rally Japan delivered spectacular action to enthusiasts across the globe. Its 350 kilometres of competitive route served up 27 of the toughest stages for the 2007 season, reducing the top–ten leaderboard to seven WRC cars.

Weather became a huge factor for crews as rain and ice upset even the world’s best throughout the duration. Leg 1 remained dry but extremely cold, morning temperatures made grip a major issue. Overnight rain meant day 2 was to start and finish under slippery, wet conditions and was the day that saw two of the top–three running crews retire on the same stage; in Latvala and Frenchman Sebastien Loeb.

Rally Headquarters ran from central Obihiro with stages predominately running far to the north except for leg 3 which took competitors to the mountains over to the west. This event has seen the return of the super special after two events without one and with great success, as crowd numbers hit the 15,000 mark on all three days of competition.

Latvala began Rally Japan setting records for the Stobart team by leading the event after five stages and finishing leg 1 in third position, both a first for the young team. Unfortunately the podium dream was not to be for the 22–year–old when, over a medium speed right hand corner, 6.5km into stage 13, he under–steered at the entry, hitting a tree with the front left of the car. To his team’s credit they were able to fix his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 overnight to have it ready and able to gain the final manufacturer point today.

From start to finish Solberg put in one of the most matured drives of his career to claim his third ever WRC podium. After claiming the position mid–way through the rally, the Norwegian held his spot for the duration of the event driving over the finish ramp an extremely happy man. An attack on second looked promising in the afternoon of leg 2 but, with Spaniard Dani Sordo looking to hunt down eventual winner Mikko Hirvonen, the sensible decision was made and the final podium spot claimed with ease. This now moves Solberg back up to sixth in the Drivers’ Championship just four points behind his brother Petter.

Wilson’s performance here has proven to the WRC community that this kid has a big future in the sport. After a slowish start the 20–year–old clicked when he became locked in a battle for fourth position with Munchi’s driver Luis Perez Companc. The battle saw the Englishman in his element as he set numerous top–five stage times on the final stages of the rally. This result has bagged the Briton five drivers’ points moving him from 18th to 14th in the Drivers’ Championship and to top things off his fourth placed result is the highest finish of his career and for a non–priority one driver during the 2007 season.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"I am really delighted with this rally and it is an incredible result to come here for my first time and finish on the podium; we are both so happy. I had a good feeling with the car right from the start and it was working really well on the gravel stages. It wasn’t an easy rally and I had to take some risks on the first day to get fast times on stages that I didn’t know. I tried to push hard when I could but also not to make any mistakes and it was a balance. To finish third here is more than I could have hoped for and we have collected a high number of points for both the driver’s championship and also for the Stobart team."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Jari–Matti Latvala said:
"Friday was a fantastic start to the rally for me and it was an incredible feeling to again be leading a WRC event. The car was amazing, I had a really good feeling with it and my confidence was high. On Saturday everything was going well until we went off the road on stage 13 after the problem with the gear change. I was very disappointed and this made things difficult to restart again today. I found it very hard to concentrate today and we had a spin on the first stage; it was difficult to keep my mind on the job. One consolation is that we secured the final manufacturer point for the Stobart team so that will help with the championship."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"What an unbelievable result, it really is a dream come true for me. If I was told before the rally that I was going to finish in fourth, I would never have believed it. It was a very difficult rally and this is shown by the fact that the two championship leaders both made mistakes during the rally; that’s a pretty rare situation. The conditions were extremely difficult, especially on Saturday, and it was fantastic to complete the event unscathed and without making any mistakes. This has been my best ever finish and I’m happy with my speed during the rally. I learnt a lot being in a battle and it’s great to have come out on top when the pressure was on."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"This is the Stobart team’s best ever result and it’s incredible that it takes them to within two points of Subaru. It is a fantastic result for Henning to finish third, on the podium, on his first ever time on this rally; his preparation has really paid off. It’s also a great performance from Matthew. He has had to show some fighting spirit today and he came out of the battle on top, into an amazing fourth overall. I’m absolutely delighted with his result. Unfortunately for Jari–Matti things didn’t go according to plan, but again he has demonstrated top–level pace and again led a WRC event outright."

Final Leaderboard
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen 3h23m57.6sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti +37.4sec
3. H Solberg/C Menkerud +4m33.7sec
4. M Wilson/M Orr +6m37.9sec
5. L P Companc/J M Volta +6m40.4sec
6. M Stohl/I Minor +7m04.3sec
7. F Villagra/J Diaz +11m15.3sec
8. K Taguchi/M Stacey +20m40.1sec
9. G Pozzo/D Stillo +21m53.0sec
10. A Araujo/M Ramalho +24m13.5sec
26. J–M Latvala/M Anttila +40m49.6sec

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