Stobart crews float into top-four in Finland
After the opening day of Neste Oil Rally Finland both nominated points scoring drivers for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team sit nicely inside the top-four. Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud lead the way in third after an impressive string of top-three stage times this afternoon.

It has been a day long battle for the final podium spot with team-mates Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini who currently lie fourth just 3.1 seconds behind the Norwegian pair. Brits Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin advanced on their overnight position and sit comfortably in 11th place.

The battle between Solberg and Galli has been an impressive one all day with the Italian picking up third spot on stage 8 only for the Norwegian to move ahead on stage 10 and maintain the position over the final super special this evening.

Solberg’s great effort was not without troubles however when he experienced problems with the setup of his rear suspension due to heavy landings on both passes of the Surkee stage.

After six weeks out of the car Galli began conservatively as he tried to find his pace on gravel which has seen him pick up 13 stage wins already this year. A slowish start quickly turned fast as he reeled off six straight top-four stage times to be battling for the final rostrum position.

Also without much practice in his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 over the summer break was 21-year-old Wilson who struggled early on to find the right confidence on this ultra-fast event. The freshly run afternoon stages saw his pace increase as he moved up two places on the leaderboard from his mid-day service position.

With the roads rutting up quite heavily over the second loop, this afternoon’s three solely run stages proved a lot smoother for crews before they returned to central Jyväskylä for a regroup and the second and final pass over the spectator friendly Killeri super special.

Today saw teams tackling 129.64 kilometres of competitive distance over 10 stages; seven of which being first pass tests. The roads were typical Finnish-spec with massive jumps and high speed action that saw an average speed of well over 120kph for the day.

This morning saw an uncommon downpour to paint the way for the opening proper day of Rally Finland. Temperatures, too, dropped considerably from the previous three days and the rain meant the scrapping of any disadvantage to front running competitors who would generally ‘sweep’ the roads in the dry conditions.

Tomorrow sees the longest day of the event at 168.25 kilometres in competitive length – a big test for Pirelli’s soft-compound Scorpion gravel tyre. This will see no fewer than 10 stages being run with the shortest of the lot coming in at 10.67 kilometres.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
“We were very lucky today on the last corner of stage 9 when I just cut a bit too much and touched some bushes but ok it’s no big problem now. I wasn’t able to keep the pace towards the end of the day and Henning has managed to get ahead but its fine, he’s my friend and I don’t mind him sweeping the road for me tomorrow! It has been a good day, it took us a while to just get up to speed this morning but my confidence is better now, the car and the Pirelli tyres are working well so I can push some more tomorrow.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“Today has went well and it’s been a great start to the rally for me. The car has been working well but we started off slowly this morning as it took some time to find a good feeling with the rear of the car. But the mechanics have done a great job and you can see from my times that the feeling is better now and I can push the way I like to. With no test before the rally it’s been good to see that we have got off to a flying Finnish start and be on the podium at the end of the first day.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“In some sections today my splits have been really good and the car feels great. But in others I’m lifting too much and just struggling to find the confidence so I just need to get it to feel good everywhere. With this rally it takes a day to get your brain into Finland mode as the speeds and commitment needed here are different to anywhere else in the world. I haven’t put a foot wrong today and just need to stay focused and get everything to work a bit better tomorrow.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It has been a really strong performance from the Stobart team today and we have seen a great battle between the two lead drivers; now only a few seconds apart. It just tells you how well the two guys have been driving and to come back from a six week break, with no pre-event testing, and put in those performances is fantastic and really encouraging. Matthew has also had a solid start to the rally and has upped his pace as the day has gone on. He’s now just outside the top-10 and, with a sensible day of driving, is in a good position to build upon for tomorrow.”

Day 1 Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena 1h04m57.9ss
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +14.4s
3. H Solberg/C Menkerud +53.1s
4. G Galli/G Bernacchini +56.2s
5. D Sordo/M Marti +1m05.4s
6. P Solberg/P Mills +1m37.8s
7. C Atkinson/S Prevot +1m41.1s
8. P G Andersson/J Andersson +2m20.4s
9. M Rantanen/J Löengren +2m27.2s
10. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen +2m26.6s

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