Podium for Galli as Stobart race to second in Championship
On just the second round of the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship the Stobart VK M–Sport Ford rally team have finished on the podium after a fine display of driving this weekend by freshly signed Italian crew Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini.

With team–mates Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud finishing in a manufacturer points position, the Pirelli–shod Stobart team have moved to equal second in the Manufacturers’ Championship as two Ford teams occupy the top places after the Uddeholm Swedish Rally.

Galli drove superbly today to finish third behind both BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers making it a Ford one–two–three. The Italian was in fine form throughout the event keeping things balanced to eventually finish on the final step of the podium for the second time in his career and the first with his new team. He also managed to pick up a stage win on the 1.9 kilometre Karlstad super special in front of a packed crowd; several of who from Galli’s very own #25 fan club.

On what is essentially his ‘home’ event Solberg began the Swedish Rally extremely well and found himself in third place after the opening day. Unfortunately his super run came to an end on stage 12 when he ran into a safety barrier at high speeds causing extensive damage to the front end of his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07. A gallant effort overnight by his Stobart mechanics saw the Norwegian back out today and as a thank you he pushed hard to win every single stage on the final day and climb back up to 13th overall.

Twenty–one–year–old Wilson was flying in one of his best rallies to–date and after 18 stages was holding a remarkable fifth position overall. Unfortunately, around the halfway point of stage 19, a fly–by wire throttle problem caused the pedal to stick open forcing him to stop and rectify the issue. After 20 minutes the young Brit managed to continue but retired at the end of the stage. Over the course of the event Wilson was pushing well inside the top–ten and improved on his pace extremely well as the event grew older.

Unlike a traditional Swedish Rally this year lacked on important ingredient, snow. The lack of snow and ice on the scheduled 340 kilometres of competitive distance caused the cancellation of two special stages (SS12 and SS18) with organisers putting the abandonments down to overly exposed gravel. Temperatures hovered around the zero degree mark on all three days unlike last year where they dropped as low as –26 in the northern Hagfors region.

This weekend’s result sees a positive continuation from last year where the Stobart team finished just behind Subaru’s factory outfit. Once again the Stobart VK M–Sport Ford rally team continue to back–up the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT as they look to make it three consecutive Manufacturer titles. The event was won by Jari–Matti Latvala who graduated from the Stobart team last year. The crews now head to Rally Mexico on 28 February – 2 March for the first gravel event of 2008.

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
"What a fantastic result for me here. It’s an amazing feeling to be on the podium so early in the year. The Pirelli tyres have been perfect in the difficult conditions and the car has worked extremely well. It is also important for me to have scored more points for the Stobart team and help get three Ford cars onto the podium. I wanted to be fast here but I always had to think about getting to the finish and I can really say I used my head to keep it safe."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"Generally I am disappointed with the mistake we made on Saturday but this was my strongest event and I had to come here and try to win and you can see this from all the fastest times today. I had the speed and I was really trying hard for all the Expert fans who came to spectate on this rally from Norway. The team were fantastic and they knew how important it was to repair my car last night."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"I’m obviously gutted at having to retire so close to the finish and in such a good position but there are lots of positives we can take from this event. In the end the throttle was sticking open and it was pretty scary for a while and we just couldn’t continue. My split times for the whole event were well improved and it gives me a big boost in confidence as we go into Mexico. This will be important as I am scoring points for the team there."

Stobart VK M–Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"It has been a superb performance from Gigi on only his second event for the team and he has really got up to speed with the car. The mechanics did a remarkable job to get Henning’s car out again after his accident on Saturday as he was able to collect points and move the Stobart team to second in the championship. Matthew’s performance has been fantastic here, he showed increased speed and control throughout the whole rally, he has really impressed me. To have two Ford teams at the top of the Manufacturers’ Championship is incredible."

Stobart Group Ltd CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
"I only came out to this event at the last minute when I saw that our cars were third and fourth. Gigi has been absolutely fantastic here, he’s been fast but also in control and he lives for everything the Stobart brand exhibits; energy, passion and to be the best. Henning was extremely fast here as well and Matthew has definitely shown that his speed and maturity has improved on this rally and I was really impressed with his times. But full credit must go to Malcolm Wilson, his cars have made it a Ford one–two–three on this event and now we have two Ford teams at the top of the Manufacturers’ Championship."

Final Leaderboard
1. J–M Latvala/M Anttila 2h46m41.2sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +58.3s
3. G Galli/G Bernacchini +2m23.2s
4. P Solberg/P Mills +2m59.4s
5. A Mikkelsen/O Floene +5m46.0s
6. D Sordo/M Marti +7m13.1s
7. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen +10m35.3s
8. J Hanninen/M Markkula +12m27.5s
9. M Ostberg/O Unnerud +13m28.5s
10. J Ketomaa/M Teiskonen +13m50.7s
13. H Solberg/C Menkerud +15m36.7s

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