Latvala sensational as Stobart seeks manufacturer glory
FIA World Rally Championship

Rally Ireland, 15–18 November 2007

Leg 2 Report

Jari–Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila are just four stages away from their first ever FIA World Rally Championship podium finish after two completed legs at this weekend’s Rally Ireland. His Stobart VK M–Sport Ford team–mates Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr have progressed from their overnight position to finish the day in seventh place.

Norwegian driver Henning Solberg and stand–in co–driver GŲran Bergsten have spent the day moving up the leaderboard after entering this morning under SupeRally regulations due to a heavy accident yesterday which forced them to retire from leg 1.

The itinerary for leg 2 saw two loops of three stages beginning with the exigently long Sloughan Glen test, which was described by crews as the slipperiest, with its open sections where new lines have been cut and mud dragged onto the road. The other two offered a more abrasive surface and a surprisingly high level of grip especially through the morning sector.

Conditions today were kinder to competitors with stage surfaces staying reasonably clean in contrast to yesterday’s leg. Weather conditions were generally wet throughout the day but perhaps not as heavy as first thought by weather crews, until the final stage was battered with torrential rain.

Latvala’s ability to perform on this surface continues to grow from strength to strength as he sits comfortably on the final podium step. The 22–year–old set a multitude of blisteringly fast stage times over the day finishing in style with a fastest time on the closing 13.46 kilometre test; his seventh in the WRC.

It was almost game over for the young Finn when his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 slid off the road into a field smashing into a small post. Fortunately damage was only mildly cosmetic and with the grateful help of nearby onlookers he was able to get back on the road losing just 30 seconds. This could have been disastrous if it wasn’t for the fact Latvala had build a reasonable lead on fourth placed Mikko Hirvonen which allowed him to maintain third.

Britain’s only full–time WRC driver, Wilson, showed an improved confidence despite the extremely wet conditions. The only problem for him was a half–spin this morning on stage 13 which lost him ten seconds when he spun under– braking on shiny tar.

Wilson’s speed developed increasingly faster over the duration of today’s leg as he fought off a fighting Gareth MacHale who was looking to seize seventh spot from the Brit. Displaying a positive temperament he fought well and will now head into tomorrow’s final leg with a strong 44 second buffer over the Irishman.

While Solberg may have been battling far away down the leaderboard after yesterday’s retirement, his role today played a vital part in the Stobart team’s dream of grasping third place in the manufacturers’ championship from Subaru in these final stages of the 2007 season.

By taking a cautious approach today and finishing every stage he was able to maintain sixth place on the manufacturer leaderboard which will offer three valuable points should he hold this position until Rally Ireland’s final classifications are made official tomorrow evening.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Jari–Matti Latvala said:
"It’s been another fantastic day for me as I have maintained my third position overall and also put in a fastest time on the last stage. I was happy with my driving except for a small mistake when we got caught out with lots of water on the road on stage 14. We slid through some gate posts into a field and were quite lucky to make it back onto the road as the grass was very soft and slippery. The limit to making a mistake was very small and you really need to expect the unexpected on these stages. The information from safety crews was a good help today and our tyre choices have been perfect also."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"Today has been reasonably good and I’m happy to have taken time back off Gareth MacHale. We had a pretty average morning as conditions were still very difficult but things seemed to pick up in the afternoon. The stages were still tricky as there was lots of standing water but fortunately my safety crew did a fantastic job. They had marked all the dangerous areas and I knew exactly where all the standing water was and it was a big help to my confidence. There was very heavy rain in the last stage and it was an extremely fast stage also; visibility was terrible and it really did get my heart racing."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"The car has been working very well today but really I’ve just been trying to maintain my position as there is no need for me to push. Today’s conditions were easier than yesterday as there was less mud on the roads. I’m still on course to score points for the team so this is my main objective tomorrow. I am just going to take things slowly for the rest of this rally as we have to work together for these manufacturer points. The last stage today was so wet I don’t think I have ever been in a stage where it has rained so heavily. "

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Rally Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"It has been another superb performance by all three guys today. Jari made a slight mistake this afternoon but still managed to maintain his excellent third position; and even came back to set a fastest time on the last stage. It has also been another solid day’s driving from Matthew. He has performed well and moved up another position overall and still looking good for some more driver points. It also showed the importance of getting Henning back out again today. Both he and Jari should hopefully come away with a good haul of manufacturer points if the positions remain like this tomorrow."

Leg 2 Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena 2h 30m35.2sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti +59.3sec
3. J M Latvala/M Anttila +2m08.8sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +2m37.6sec
5. P Solberg/P Mills +2m53.2sec
6. G Wilks/P Pugh +5m52.0sec
7. M Wilson/M Orr +9m23.3sec
8. G MacHale/A Harryman +10m07.7sec
9. A Mikkelsen/O Floene +13m01.3sec
10. A Araujo/M Ramalho +14m29.7sec
20. H Solberg/G Bergsten +20m16.6sec

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