Duval darts into top-five with Stobart
Day 1 of Repco Rally New Zealand – round 11 of the FIA World Rally Championship – has seen François Duval/Patrick Pivato close the day in fifth position. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team-mates Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin unfortunately retired from the leg after showing some encouragingly strong times which saw them run as high as eighth until a transmission problem put a halt to their day 1 campaign.

Duval began cautiously this morning on his first WRC gravel event since the Acropolis Rally in 2007. The Belgian looked solid setting top-six stage times on the opening loop of three stages. Still with a lack of feeling in his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07, setup changes were made during service and the 27-year-old came out firing this afternoon to set three top-five fastest stage times to finish the day fifth overall.

It was not such a fortunate day for Wilson however after retiring from today’s leg with a transmission problem. With five kilometres left of the 24.22 kilometre Pirongia 2 stage the 21-year-old experienced gear selection issues and, as a result, the decision was made to withdraw him from the day not to cause any further damage to his Focus RS. With full repairs tonight Wilson will restart tomorrow under SupeRally regulations.

Fifty-seven crews began Rally New Zealand last night rolling over the start ramp in Hamilton’s town centre to thousands of lively fans. Today’s leg began under crystal clear blue skies as competitors put their foot down for 138 kilometres of competitive action which included a pass over the 3.14 kilometre Mystery Creek Super Special.

The action began in the south west region of Waikato where road position became a big factor as conditions stayed dry throughout the day despite torrential downpours in the region for the past two months. This saw tactical objectives come into play over the closing special stages as the forecasted dry conditions look to continue and leave front running competitors to ‘sweep’ the loose gravel from the roads.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver François Duval said:
“Today has been good for us especially with this being my first WRC event on gravel since Greece last year. This morning the car was not feeling great so we changed the rollbar at service which resulted in much less over-steer and this helped my confidence a lot this afternoon. On the last two stages I was using a bit too much left-foot braking and I lost the front brakes but apart from that everything went well this afternoon.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It is a shame we had to retire today after doing so well. The times were looking good and we had some really promising splits on that last stage before we retired. This is the sport sometimes though and tomorrow we will have a repaired car and a perfect road position so I’m looking forward to setting some more fast times. Again though, it is disappointing because we were in a position to score good points for both the team and the championship.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It has been a great first day by François after such a long break since his last gravel event in a World Rally car. He has picked up the pace over the course of the day and is now in a position to score good points for the Stobart team. It’s a shame Matthew has picked up his problem today. He was showing good speed and setting impressive split times especially on the first stage this afternoon but I’m sure he will come back tomorrow and continue this form.”

Day 1 Leaderboard
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen 1h34m44.3sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena +27.8s
3. D Sordo/M Marti +30.0s
4. J-M Latvala/M Anttila +30.1s
5. F Duval/P Pivato +1m27.9s
6. U Aava/K Sikk +2m01.3s
7. P Solberg/P Mills +2m25.8s
8. P-G Andersson/J Andersson +2m50.5s
9. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen +3m48.0s
10. F Vilagra/J Perez Companc +4m47.5s

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