Stobart Treble up at Rally Ireland
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team secured a superb triple points haul at the opening round of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Ireland.

The Cumbria-based team led the rally on the first day before seeing all three of its Ford Focus RS WRCs go on to bag top ten slots, and finished as the leading manufacturer team after a supremely tough event.

The first two legs were marked by a constant deluge of rain, making the already tricky stages even more difficult for crews as they battled through the standing water covering the dramatic Irish roads. However, conditions improved significantly on the final day of the rally, with the torrential rain giving way to bright sunshine and a cold wind drying out the tarmac.

The final leg tested competitors over five stages covering 68.86km. The overall distance was slightly reduced after the 27.90km Arigna stage, the longest of the rally, had to be shortened to 10.88km due to an unsafe bridge on the route.

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud enjoyed their best rally on asphalt, running in the top four for the majority of the event. After SS15 Geevagh on the final day they were forced to concede the number four spot to the charging Chris Atkinson. However, the Norwegian pair switched from the Pirelli Sottozero winter tyre to the PZero dry weather tyre for the penultimate stage to try and find an advantage in their battle with the Australian - and powered to a scorching second-fastest stage time. At the same time Atkinson slipped up on his run, which meant Solberg and Menkerud took fourth and opened their points account for the 2009 season with an outstanding result.

Brits Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin maintained a steady pace throughout the weekend as they tried to avoid falling foul of the treacherous conditions. Having been pipped to sixth place late on day two by Sebastien Ogier they upped the ante on the opening stage of the final leg as they chased down the Frenchman, taking 14 seconds out of the reigning JWRC champion on SS15 Geevagh. However, their charge was halted by a small spin on the truncated SS16 Arigna and they had to be content with seventh overall.

Urmo Aava/Kuldar Sikk experienced highs and lows in their first outing for Stobart. They seized the lead and were sitting proudly atop the overall classification during the first leg having adapted better to the sodden conditions than their opponents. However, their hopes of a victory were dashed after they slid from the road and their car was beached in a ditch 6.6km into the 25.19km Aughnasheelan test. Despite this setback the Estonian duo went on to fight their way back up the field with a series of impressive stage times over legs two and three. On the final day they reeled in their nearest rivals to secure a top ten finish and manufacturer points for the Stobart team.

As a result Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team leaves Rally Ireland in joint second place in the manufacturer championship and looking forward to another strong outing in the next round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Norway.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“This is a big result for me. I worked really hard for this and it has been one of my best ever rallies. I used my head and did everything right, it’s a good feeling. The weather was very bad and that made the roads very difficult, but we made no mistakes and we have proved we can be fast on tarmac now. We had a good fight with Chris on the last day which was exciting for the fans. I’m happy to have got through it and get the points for the Stobart team.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It was a good clean run with no major problems in what were some of the worst conditions I’ve seen. The stages here in Ireland are great and I really started to enjoy them on the last day when they began to dry up. The fans here have also been brilliant all weekend. I’m happy to take points away from the first round of the season, which I’ve never done before, so it’s a good start.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Urmo Aava said:
“I’m very happy that we were able to lead a WRC event and get points for the team in our first event with them. This rally has been very important to us because we got a lot of time in the car, which we are still learning about, and this gave us good experience. The car went very well and we had no problems at all with it. One mistake cost us a lot of time but apart from that the rest of the weekend was good.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s been a dream start for the Stobart team and it was fantastic to see Urmo leading on the first day; he has fitted in well with the team and showed good pace all weekend. Henning’s drive here has definitely been his best ever for the team, and he put in a really controlled and measured performance in the adverse conditions. Matt has also performed well and we have seen a positive start to the championship for him, scoring points on his 50th event. All-in-all it’s been a great way to kick off the new season.”

Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
“We have seen another fantastic result for the Stobart team at Rally Ireland and it is a superb start to the year. All three Stobart drivers showed outstanding ability in the atrocious conditions. It was a proud moment to see a Stobart car leading the rally during the first day, and we are delighted all three scored points this weekend. Congratulations must also go to Matthew as he celebrated his 22nd birthday and 50th WRC start at Rally Ireland.”

Final Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena (F) Citroën C4 2h48m25.7s
2. D Sordo/M Marti (E) Citroën C4 +1m27.9s
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS +2m07.8s
4. H Solberg/C Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS +6m32.4s
5. C Atkinson/S Prevot (AUS) Citroën C4 +7m51.9s
6. S Ogier/J Ingrassia (F) Citroën C4 +10m44s
7. M Wilson/S Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS +11m23.8s
8. K Al Qassimi/M Orr (UAE) Ford Focus RS +14m07.9s
9. E Boland/D Morrissey (IRL) Subaru Impreza +15m23.4s
10. U Aava/K Sikk (EST) Ford Focus RS +15m35.4s

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