Latvala third as two Stobarts hunt the points
FIA World Rally Championship

Rally Ireland, 15–18 November 2007

Leg 1 Report

For the second event in a row Jari–Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila have finished day 1 in a podium position as they occupy third at this weekend’s Rally Ireland. Stobart VK M–Sport Ford team–mates Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr have kept things consistent to finish the leg in the points in eighth overall.

Henning Solberg/Göran Bergsten began the day showing an incredible improvement on tarmac to be in sixth after seven stages. Disastrously however, on the following 22.25 kilometre Glenboy test, the Norwegian put his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 off the road retiring from the leg.

Rather unexpectedly Rally Ireland has almost surpassed the challenges of last month’s Rally Japan which saw the championship’s top two crews bowing out in dramatic fashion. Conditions have been described as like not hing ever before seen on the FIA World Rally Championship.

Wet roads, combined with copious amounts of mud dragged onto them by competitors taking deep cuts into corners, made driving conditions extremely difficult today. Ten stages made up today’s leg which ran to the east of Sligo headquarters in the Leitrim region. Today also played host to the 27.9 kilometre Arigna test which is the longest of the event.

Latvala began the day rather cautiously as he gradually found his confidence over the very slippery, muddy stages . By stage 6 though, he surpassed BP–Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen to claim third place overall, holding the position to day’s end.

The Finn now heads into tomorrow’s equally demanding leg with a 24 second lead over his fellow countryman as he goes in search of his first ever WRC podium finish.

Solberg, too, was beginning to understand the technique required to tackle these treacherous roads until disaster struck eight kilometres into stage 8. With muddy water flying up vigorously onto the windscreen of his Focus RS the Norwegian lost concentration for a split second which was enough to distract him on the apex of a tricky corner as he hit a rock and bounced back over the road, down an embankment and into a tree, retiring from the leg.

Whether Solberg returns tomorrow will be at the discretion of FIA scruntineers who will shortly assess the damage to his Focus RS to decide whether it is fit to return tomorrow under SupeRally regulations.

Twenty–year–old Wilson has put himself in another strong points scoring position despite being slightly disappointed with today’s drive. The young Briton found it challenging with the constantly changing surface, admitting his confidence was slightly off as a result.

The only issue for Wilson was a heavy compression impact at the start of stage 8 which resulted in some lower backpain throughout the duration of the 22.25 kilometre test.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Jari–Matti Latvala said:
"It’s fantastic for me to be in third position, today was a challenge but that is what rallying is all about. I am really satisfied with my position and my performance today. I had a feeling this morning that it was going to be a long day and it certainly was. The car and tyres have both worked extremely well in really bad conditions; I have never seen a tarmac rally like this before. Sometimes it feels like half the road is missing with the amount of mud on it. We will still concentrate for tomorrow as Mikko is quite close behind. If he tries to chase I will let him as it is more important for me to finish this event and get the maximum experience out of it."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"Today has been reasonably good for us and we are happy to be in the points at the end of the first day on this difficult event in which experience counts a lot. We haven’t had any problems except for a half–spin on the last stage and a big overshoot on stage eight where we had to reverse and lost about 15–20 seconds. I have never experienced anything like this in my life, the conditions are treacherous in places and not like any other Irish rally I have done before. You have to keep altering your pace as the surface changes which makes concentrating very difficult but a least for tomorrow we will know what to expect of the conditions, unlike today."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"I am really disappointed with how today ended up for us, we were going really well up until that stage and the feeling was very good. I clipped a rock on the apex of a corner which bounced the car back over the road and down a bank. My tarmac experience is limited and the muddy conditions make it even worse for me here. This is another new rally for me and learning the conditions is very important so hopefully we can re–start tomorrow and gain more experience of this event."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"It’s great to have two Stobart cars in the points at the end of the first day of probably the most difficult event of the championship so far this year. It has been a great performance from both Jari and Matthew and the cars have run faultlessly. Both these guys have limited experience and haven’t made any mistakes during a day where a few of the top drivers have gone out. Today has been a balancing act with tyre choice and we have been trying to preserve wet weather tyres for the expected rain tomorrow, this makes their result even more impressive. Henning was looking good also but unfortunately got caught out in the tricky conditions."

Leg 1 Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena 1h 33m 15.9sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti +11.2sec
3. J M Latvala/M Anttila +1m28.4sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +1m53.2sec
5. P Solberg/P Mills +2m19.2sec
6. G Wilks/P Pugh +4m13.6sec
7. M Stohl/I Minor +4m41.9sec
8. M Wilson/M Orr +6m45.4sec
9. T McNulty/E O’Donnell +7m55.9sec
10. G MacHale/A Harryman +7m59.8sec
38. H Solberg/G Bergsten +17m01.0sec

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