Stobart Start Solid in Difficult Day
Treacherous weather conditions have seen a manic start to the closing round of the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship with just 49.7 kilometres of competitive distance covered on day 1 of Wales Rally GB. A day which has thrown numerous challenges at WRC crews sees François Duval/Denis Giraudet as the best placed Stobart VK M-Sport Ford crew in seventh position.

Duval began the event in form as he set the second fastest time on the opening stage of the rally. However an intercom glitch on stage 3 saw him lose valuable seconds when he could only hear his pacenotes in one ear and was forced to back off with this impaired hearing.

Two places back in ninth are fellow team-mates Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud. Solberg’s slow start this morning was put down to a centre differential issue which was swiftly rectified by his team of Stobart technicians during midday service. Fortunately the Norwegian came out firing this afternoon in his fully-mended Ford Focus RS WRC setting a sixth fastest time on the longest stage of the day – Myherin.

Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin lie 10th overall after finding the extreme conditions very tough going early on but managed to regain some feeling in the afternoon setting some top-10 fastest times and climbing back up the leaderboard. The Brit heads into tomorrow’s leg in a points-attacking position and will be hungry to continue up the leaderboard on his home event.

Beginning cautiously on his first WRC event in over two years, Valentino Rossi/Carlo Cassina improved solidly over the course of the day cruising into Parc Ferme in 24th position. As he did on his last event The Doctor will be looking to continue this improvement and make his way up the leaderboard in search of that illusive top-ten finish.

Performing well today, finishing in an overnight position of 12th, were Barry Clark/Paul Nagle who put in some outstanding times which included a top-ten fastest stage time on the second pass of the Sweet Lamb test. The Scotsman used his head in the testing conditions and is now just seconds away from a top-10 berth on what is shaping up to be one of the most demanding rallies in recent history.

Due to the recent cold-snap a shortened itinerary for day 1 was issued late last night due to safety concerns for ice. The itinerary was cut further with the entire cancellation of stages 1 and 4 due to ice; a decision by event organisers which proved very accurate with several WRC crews spinning on the test driving through at safety pace. The day was split by a remote service in Builth Wells before crews headed back to Swansea for their 45 minute flexi service this evening.

Once again the Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyre had a job on its hands more so than ever and again it stood up to the arduous task with no reports of punctures or severe tyre wear.

To make matters worse the heavens opened up this morning battering crews with hailstones and gale force winds making the stages extremely wet for the second pass through this afternoon. All going to plan tomorrow will see a full day covering 129 kilometres of stage distance including a pass over the spectacular Cardiff Super Special in the Millennium Stadium.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It’s been a really long day and a really difficult day and I’m glad to be back here in one piece. The conditions are starting to get dangerous. The tyres are strong but obviously not working well in these conditions; it’s a shame we are not allowed to cut them anymore. I’m just hoping that tomorrow will be better we need to get a few good stages under our belt.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver François Duval said:
“We’ve had a few problems today mainly with the intercom not working but we also had two spins in the long stage. It’s very difficult with the ice and after my accident in Japan I’m not fully committed in the fast sections. The ice is making the braking very slippery so the important thing is to be careful out there.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Valentino Rossi said:
“The condition of the stages this afternoon were bad with the fog and rain but not as bad as the ice from the morning. We improved very much our stage times from the first pass so that has been a very positive improvement. The longer stages are better for me as I can get into a good rhythm and it starts to feel quite good; the car is really fun to drive.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“The conditions have been very difficult today and we had a small spin in the long stage. There was lots of rain and fog and it really was very difficult to drive in there. In the morning the grip and feeling with the car wasn’t very good but things went better this afternoon; it’s been a really hard day and hopefully tomorrow will prove to be easier.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Barry Clark said:
“It was important to make sure we got through the day without any mistakes. Some parts of the road looked wet and its actually ice so it’s making things very hard. But every day is a new learning experience and every rally I have done has been in different conditions so I am always learning.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Its proved to be one of the most difficult days in the championship this year and I know everyone has had some kind of problem but it is good to have all the Stobart cars back with no major issues and in one piece.”

Leaderboard after Day 1
1. J-M Latvala/M Anttila 31m20.5s
2. S Loeb/D Elena +12.9s
3. P-G Andersson/J Andersson +22.5s
4. M Østberg/O-K Unnerud +24.0s
5. P Solberg/P Mills +27.4s
6. D Sordo/M Marti +32.2s
7. F Duval/D Giraudet +52.0s
8. S Ogier/J Ingrassia +54.8s
9. H Solberg/C Menkerud +1m04.7s
10. M Wilson/S Martin +1m33.0s

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