Super solberg scores for Stobart
The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team continued its fine start to the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship when all three of its crews scored points at Rally Norway.

Norwegians Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud led the way for the team by finishing fourth overall on their home event. With Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin claiming seventh and Urmo Aava/Kuldar Sikk eighth it was another impressive showing for the Cumbrian outfit, having now secured triple points finishes in two successive events. Rally Norway kicked off in the nation’s capital, Oslo, with a ceremonial start at Bjerkebane racecourse in front of thousands of Norway’s enthusiastic rally fans. The action proper began after the mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang, and Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg flagged off 42 cars into a 1.92km Super Special Stage at the arena.

The conditions at the event were perfect for a winter rally, with the loose-surface routes covered in a thick layer of snow and ice and huge snow banks lining the roads. Temperatures were cold even by Norwegian standards, dipping as low as -30C on occasion. All competitors were issued with a special studded version of Pirelli’s Sottozero control tyre, and with nearly 400 tungsten-tipped metal studs, it supplied crews with a fantastic amount of grip on the snow and ice.

Stobart’s snow specialists Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud were in a confident mood coming into the event. The first leg saw Henning go head-to-head with brother Petter, and despite gear-change problems he managed to round off the first day by posting the fourth-fastest time on the 13.45km SS8 Kongsvinger test and finish in seventh overall. That was topped by a stunning stage win on SS14 and on the final leg, Solberg knew a sensible drive would see him record his best ever start to a WRC season. He duly delivered another series of top four stages times and finished a fine fourth for the second event in a row.

Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin were another crew to shine on the snow. On leg one they logged 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 third-fastest through the final test to place eighth overall. Their battle with Solberg continued into leg two, with the Cumbrians overhauling the more experienced crew of Solberg/Mills after they suffered technical problems. They couldn’t hold off the flying Norwegian on his home rally though, and had to concede the place to him again one stage later. Day three saw Wilson open up in order to chase down Solberg – reaching speeds of over 200kph on the long SS21 Våler stage. However, they had to settle for seventh overall, 10.2 seconds behind the former world champ. Wilson is now sixth overall in the drivers’ championship standings - his best-ever position.

Urmo Aava/Kuldar Sikk found it difficult to get into a good rhythm on the snow-bound stages. They finished the opening loop seventh, however in the afternoon they dropped 40 seconds after lodging their Ford Focus RS WRC in a snow bank on SS8 Kongsvinger and fell back to tenth overall. Aava continued his gradual improvement on leg three, racking up a string of top-six times and narrowing the gap to team-mates Wilson/Martin ahead to just 13.5 seconds by the end of the rally.

With all three crews once again finishing in the top ten the Stobart Team now sits third in the overall standings, securing its position as the leading manufacturer team in the FIA World Rally Championship. Importantly Henning Solberg’s fourth place finish also helped the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team in its championship battle by denying Citroën’s Dani Sordo valuable manufacturer points, ensuring a good weekend all round for the Ford family in the WRC.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I’m very happy. I have the top three drivers in the world in the top three rally cars ahead of me. It was the perfect rally in terms of the stages and its organisation which made it very enjoyable and it means a lot to me to be the first Norwegian home in the rally. It was good fun to race against Petter this weekend but now I can say I am the fastest Solberg and I want to try and keep it like that. Now I’m also fourth in the drivers’ championship; that’s also a fantastic reward for me.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“Overall it has been a very positive weekend for me. I’m happy with my driving but I’m kicking myself because there were a few places where I was just too cautious and probably dropped too much time. It was great to be fighting with a driver of Petter’s calibre and experience though, and we can take a lot away from that. Picking up points for the second rally in a row was important and we want to keep doing that as the season progresses; it has put me sixth in the championship and that’s a great feeling.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Urmo Aava said:
“That was a tough rally. On the first day we didn’t find the right rhythm and made some little mistakes which cost us too much time. Saturday morning was much the same but after that we started to get into better shape and it became more enjoyable. Our times were a lot better today so I’m happy about that. This rally is about experience and I picked up some important lessons about the set-up for snow events; we made some good progress during the event.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“This has been another great team performance and it just demonstrates the strength of this Stobart squad now that all crews have scored points on the first two events of the series. I’m extremely happy to see Henning perform so well on his home rally and Matthew was pushing hard also to take the fight to Petter. This is a really impressive start to the year for the Stobart team.”

Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
“I’m really proud of all the guys, they have done a fantastic job at both Rally Ireland and now here in Norway. Henning has delivered a sterling performance and Matthew demonstrated a lot of potential to battle with Petter during the last two days. With all three crews in the top eight I think the Stobart team is really going from strength to strength.”

Final Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena (F) Citroën C4 3h28m15.9s
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS +9.8s
3. JM Latvala/M Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus RS +1m21.8s
4. H Solberg/C Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS +3m33.5s
5. D Sordo/M Marti (E) Citroën C4 +3m52.0s
6. P Solberg/P Mills (N) Citroën Xsara +6m25.4s
7. M Wilson/S Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS +6m35.6s
8. U Aava/K Sikk (EE) Ford Focus RS +6m49.1s
9. M Ostberg/O Unnerud (N) Subaru Impreza +10m00.5s
10. S Ogier/J Ingrassia (F) Citroën C4 +12m49.8s

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