Super start for Stobart as Duval tops the timesheets
On conclusion of the opening round of the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship, Rallye Monte–Carlo, the Stobart VK M–Sport Ford rally team has all four crews in the top–ten. The superb result also puts the team equal third in the manufacturers’ championship just three points behind the top spot.

Belgium’s Francois Duval/Eddy Chevailler starred in the Stobart show by finishing fourth, unfortunately just 1.1 seconds off a podium spot after they reeled in 19 seconds over third placed Chris Atkinson during the day. Duval also picked–up four from five stage wins on this final day to add to the achievements tally for the team. Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini were the backbone of the team on this event as they set consistent stage times over all four days to comfortably finish sixth overall.

Both Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin achieved their best ever results here by finishing ninth and tenth respectively. Both crews had a fairly trouble–free run and were rewarded deservingly with their top–ten finishes.

It has been a long and exciting start to the year with competition spread over four days, kicking off in Valence before returning home to Monte–Carlo for the close of proceedings. Snow on reconnaissance worried crews but a week long bout of good weather kept things fairly clean for competition; apart from patches of ice which were reported mainly on the opening two days.

Today saw the return of Rallye Monte–Carlo’s famous Col de Turini stage which was flooded with spectators all hoping for a peek at the world’s fastest rally machinery. The event then concluded with a 2.7 kilometre blast around the Monaco Circuit – a super special right in the heart of Monaco using several sections of the famed Monaco F1 circuit.

For Italian Galli it has been a superb start to his first full season in the WRC and with the Stobart team. Using the event as a means of reacquainting himself with the intense speeds at which these cars travel, he has managed to finish Rallye Monte–Carlo as planned and in style. Continuing his flamboyant manner where he left off in Portugal last season, 35–year–old Galli was a hit on this opening round with many of his fans from the famous #25 fan club flocking from across Europe to support their WRC hero.

Solberg’s consistency on this event rewarded him with his best ever result in Monte–Carlo which previously stood at a less that justified 14th. In just his second year competing on tarmac events the Norwegian was pleased with his finish which stands him in a promising position for the remaining three asphalt challenges in 2008.

Twenty–year–old Wilson continued to improve his pace on this final day but lost a small amount of time on stage 16 when he stalled his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 on the start–line. On a rally which the young Briton admits is not one of his favoured, this is a fantastic result and a great way to start the year with new car and new co–driver.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
"What a great start to the season for me. Now that I have a full year secured I am able to take time to adjust to the car and the most important thing for me in this rally was to get to the finish and learn as much as I can. To finish with drivers points and score points for the Stobart team makes it even more special. The Focus is really a wonderful rally car, I love driving it, and we got to grips with it sooner than I thought. For me the most important thing is to get to the end of this event. Last year I had to prove myself in three events but now I have the whole year to learn about the car and can push harder later in the year."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Francois Duval said:
"It’s great for me to finish in fourth position here. It has been difficult with new tyres, a new car, new co–driver and new stages on the rally but we have done a good job here and collected important points. It took some time to adjust and get confidence with everything but as you can see we were able to set some fastest times today. Hopefully there will be more events to come for me this year."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"This rally was always going to be difficult for me as I’m not an expert on this surface. I think we have done a good job here though and I achieved my goal of finishing without any major problems; this was the most important thing for me to gain more experience. The start of the rally was difficult as we had to adjust to the new tyres and also the night time stages, but once we got more confidence then it felt good. The car has worked well during the four days and now we have gathered more information and experience for the rest of the asphalt rallies this year."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"We haven’t had a fantastic weekend here but we have finished the event with no problems and inside the top–ten; this is a good start to the year for me and I’m really looking forward to Sweden and Mexico now. It took some time to get a good feeling with the car and tyres and also I had a new co–driver. Scott has done a great job here and I think we are going to have a good season together."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"It is a fantastic start to the season for the Stobart team; all four entered cars inside the top ten, both nominated crews scoring points and they have grabbed a strong position in the manufacturers’ championship. For Francois to be so close to a podium is a remarkable achievement and you must remember this is his first time in the car. It’s very promising to see that the new guys have got to grips with the car and team so quickly."

Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
"What a feeling it is to see our Stobart cars racing around this amazing track, and it’s even more special to see all four entered cars finish inside the top–ten. This is an historic moment and we have really started the new season in style. Gigi and Francois have had an excellent performance here and have really got to grips with the car while Matthew and Henning used their heads, put in strong drives, and improved their pace well over the weekend."

Final top–ten leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena 3h39m17.0sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +2m34.4sec
3. C Atkinson/S Prevot +2m58.6sec
4. F Duval/E Chevailler +2m59.7sec
5. P Solberg/P Mills +4m40.9sec
6. G Galli/G Bernacchini +8m46.5sec
7. J Cuoq/P Janvier +10m24.8sec
8. P G Andersson/J Andersson +11m19.5sec
9. H Solberg/C Menkerud +12m43.6sec
10. M Wilson/S Martin +14m00.1sec

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