Stobarts blast off at Rally Ireland with Belfast opening stage
FIA World Rally Championship

Rally Ireland, 15–18 November 2007

Update after SS1

Rally Ireland began this morning in a slightly unorthodox manner as crews took part in a shortened shakedown session under fairly moist conditions due to overnight rain. Teams then made their way 250 kilometres east for the opening special stage at Stormont Parliament Buildings, home of the Northern Ireland Assembly, in Belfast.

After their shortened shakedown, which finished at ten this morning, crews hopped aboard a 13:30 flight direct to Belfast while their world rally cars were loaded onto transporters to make the journey, via road, for the official start. Spectator numbers for the opening test reached an incredible 10,000 as the packed–out grounds cheered on their favourite world rally championship stars.

Leading the way for the Stobart VK M–Sport Ford rally team was Jari–Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila who put in a strong effort to finish sixth by the end of the 1.8 kilometre opening test. Team–mates Henning Solberg/Goran Bergsten finished in 13th while Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr ran further back in 34th after a stall at a hairpin on the closing section lost them over ten seconds.

This morning’s shakedown stage took a few by surprise with conditions turning up fairly high grip levels. Among the front runners on the shakedown scoreboard was the youngster Wilson who topped the Stobart team timesheet over the test stage.

Tomorrow’s leg consists of ten demanding stages over various mixed surfaces and includes the longest test of the rally, Arigna at 27.9 kilometres in length. Weather conditions are expected to be mild and mainly dry with the possibility of a late shower which could force a slippery surface on crews.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"We took things reasonably steady tonight, there’s no point in making any stupid mistakes. On these stages it’s easy to lose time, especially in the dark. I enjoyed it though and the car felt quite good and so I am looking forward to starting the main stages tomorrow. I know it will be difficult and I don’t have much experience on tarmac, never mind when the conditions are tricky, so I think there will be a lot of quick learning to do tomorrow. I really don’t know what to expect of this event so we will have to wait and see tomorrow. Göran and I have had a good recce and have had a chance to work together and get acquainted on the shakedown this morning."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Jari–Matti Latvala said:
"The stage went fine for me tonight and I was quite satisfied with my performance. It wasn’t a perfect stage for me, I was braking too early and not very tidy in some corners; I could have driven it better. However, I am happy, it is very easy to make a mistake on these stages and I didn’t want to do anything silly before tomorrow. I was very impressed with the stage and the number of spectators that were watching. We took it pretty casually during the shakedown and just tried a few small things. The real action will begin tomorrow."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"Unfortunately we lost some time tonight with a stall halfway through the stage which put a dampener on what was looking to be a great start to this rally. There were lots of people watching tonight, a credit to the organisers here, and I think this will be a similar experience tomorrow. The real action starts tomorrow and everyone is expecting the stages to be quite challenging. I think the atmosphere will be great though and the fans will be in for a treat. Shakedown this morning was really good, the notes were flowing and I felt quite comfortable inside the car and this reflected in the time. I did, however, have a bit of a moment while shaking down the Focus and it just goes to show that you have to be 100 percent on–the–ball with these roads and conditions in Ireland."

Leaderboard after SS1
1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen 1m 30.8sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena +0.9sec
3. K Meeke/P Nagle +1.0sec
4. C Atkinson/S Prevot +1.2sec
5. P Solberg/P Mills +1.4sec
6. J M Latvala/M Anttila +1.7sec
= M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +1.7sec
8. D Sordo/M Marti +1.9sec
9. X Pons/X Amigo +2.5sec
= M Stohl/I Minor +2.5sec
13. H Solberg/C Menkerud +4.2sec
39. M Wilson/M Orr +13.6sec

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