Battle for points hots up in Norway
The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team finished the first full day at Rally Norway firmly in contention for a healthy points haul.

All three of its Ford Focus RS WRCs completed the eight stages and 115.80km of competitive distance in top ten positions. With little separating most of the front-runners after a closely fought day of FIA World Rally Championship action, the Cumbria-based team’s crews are sure to feature prominently over the remainder of the event.

Stobart’s Norwegian stars Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud enjoyed an eventful day on home soil, enthusiastically backed by their legions of fans throughout. The opening loop of four stages saw them hindered by setup issues and the fact they collected a stack of snow in the front of their Ford Focus RS WRC after contact with a snow bank on SS3 Kirkenær.

Despite this they returned to remote service halfway through the day in sixth overall. With a tweaked set up they continued to dice for position with Henning’s brother Petter during the second loop, much to the delight of the local fans. Even gear selection problems could not stop Henning posting the fourth-fastest time on the 13.45km SS8 Kongsvinger test, giving him the momentum to finish the day in seventh overall.

Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin made excellent progress throughout the day, increasing their pace as they developed their confidence in the studded Pirelli Sottozero snow tyre. A stall on the first stage was the only blemish on their trouble-free run, which included a number of impressive stage times.

They recorded the sixth-fastest time on the 8km SS3 Kirkenaer, outpacing former world champion Petter Solberg in the process, and ended their day on a high by going fourth-fastest through the final test. That placed Wilson and Martin eighth overall at the close of business, and meant the Solberg brothers just ahead of them will be firmly in their sights when it resumes on Saturday.

Urmo Aava/Kuldar Sikk posted consistent top ten stage times throughout the day as they took a cautious approach to the snow-bound Norwegian forest stages. The Estonian duo finished the opening loop seventh overall and just behind team-mates Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud.

However, a collision with a snow bank on SS8 Kongsvinger cost them dearly, dropping around 40 seconds after spectators had to free their Ford Focus RS WRC from the white stuff. That dropped Aava/Sikk to tenth overall but they still remain within touching distance of Citroën rival Sebastien Ogier one place in front.

Saturday will see the rally take in 118.94km of stage action over a further eight tests, mainly around the Lillehammer area and featuring the arenas used at the Winter Olympics as a backdrop.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“The set up was not exactly right in the morning so I couldn’t go as fast as I wanted. We changed a few things in service and that made it better to turn in and get some good times in the afternoon, but then we had a bit of a problem with the gear selector towards the end of SS6 and had to use the manual shift. The team will get it sorted tonight, though, and we will push again tomorrow for some more places. I still think top three is possible and the stages tomorrow will suit me better.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It is a good feeling to have a strong first day in a rally and it has given me a boost in confidence for tomorrow; we just need to keep the pace going. There wasn’t as much grip out there in the afternoon, and the back end of the car was difficult to control. It definitely was harder than in the morning, but we just tried to keep it neat and tidy because it was important not to make any mistakes today. The stages tomorrow look like they will be great fun and we are in a good position to challenge those ahead of us.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Urmo Aava said:
“It’s been quite a tricky day. The car was moving around a lot in the morning but we stiffened the suspension in service and it was a lot better in the later stages. It was disappointing to lose time after we hit a snow bank, because we were trying to be careful. I just missed my braking for a slow right corner and nosed into the bank; we had to get some spectators to help push the car out. Tomorrow we will need to start from fresh and see what we can do to improve our position, the stages are more flowing and I think that will be better for me.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It has been another strong performance from the Stobart team today. Matthew has driven really well today, a very encouraging performance, probably one of his best opening days of an event. It’s a shame that Henning and Urmo have both had small issues but Henning’s gear selection problem will be fixed tonight and he can go for it again tomorrow.”

Leaderboard after Day 1
1. S Loeb/D Elena (F) Citroën C4 1h13m41.7s
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS +2.6s
3. JM Latvala/M Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus RS +26.2s
4. D Sordo/M Marti (E) Citroën C4 +1m08.6s
5. P Solberg/P Mills (N) Citroën Xsara +1m31.5s
6. PG Andersson/A Frederiksson (SWE) Skoda Fabia WRC +1m31.6s
7. H Solberg/C Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS +1m39.4s
8. M Wilson/S Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS +2m03.3s
9. S Ogier/J Ingrassia (F) Citroën C4 +2m41.2s
10. U Aava/K Sikk (EE) Ford Focus RS +2m41.5s

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