Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team driver Matthew Wilson secured fifth place overall in a thrilling climax to the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Cyprus Rally. Wilson also grabbed his first ever main stage victory on the final test of the rally as he chased down fifth place in a breathtaking finish to the weekend.

With the Cyprus Rally providing the unique challenge of a mixed-surface rally, day one saw the drivers entering uncharted waters as they tackled tarmac roads on gravel tyres. Pirelli supplied their Scorpion gravel tyres for the Stobart team and they stood up well to the challenging Cypriot roads and ever-changing stage conditions.

The team had worked hard to find the best set up for the drivers, fitting a water cooling system to the brakes for the first day, before moving the cars onto a full gravel set up for the last two days of the event.

In addition to tackling a mixed-surface rally the drivers also had to deal with big differences in weather conditions. After moving from the relative warmth of the tarmac stages on Friday, Saturday morning was marked by wet, muddy gravel stages caused by heavy overnight rain. As the stages moved further up into the Troodos Mountains north of Limassol on the final day the temperatures dropped and there were some signs of snow at the highest points.

Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin finished day one in eighth place after struggling to find a rhythm on the tarmac stages. But the young Briton came into his own in the slippery conditions on Saturday morning storming through the field to move up three places in three stages before going on to finish in an impressive third place on the 30.94 kilometre SS10 Xyliatos just 8.3 seconds behind stage winner Petter Solberg.

His strong second day set up a compelling battle with current Junior World Champion Sebastien Ogier one place behind. Ogier snatched fifth place after an engine stall set Wilson back several seconds on the 40 kilometre penultimate stage of the rally but the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver took the fight to Ogier on the short final stage, posting the fastest time and his fifth place was confirmed as the Frenchman crashed off 200 metres from the end.

For Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud Friday the thirteenth could not have been more unlucky as their day came to a crashing halt before it had even begun. The Norwegians were forced to retire from day one after colliding with a non-competing vehicle on the way from the service area to SS1. Nobody was hurt in the accident but Solberg was unable to repair the damage to his car at the side of the road and was forced to retire.

But Solberg put the first dayís disappointment behind him as he ended day two on a high, finishing second on the 26.25 kilometre SS11 Kourdali just eight seconds behind his brother Petter the stage winner. And top six finishes on all three of the final dayís stages meant that Solberg managed to grab a manufacturer point for the team finishing 18th overall.

The result leaves the drivers lying fourth and sixth overall in the championship with the Stobart team strengthening their third position in the manufacturer standings.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
ďIt has been a brilliant weekend. I had a slow start on Friday as I struggled on the asphalt but the next two days more than made up for it. We put ourselves under pressure stalling on the long stage today and losing ten seconds, but that meant we went into the last stage with the pressure back on Ogier. We were three seconds up with a few kilometres to go and I think the pressure got to him and he ended up sliding off just before the end. This signifies a big step forward for me; we pushed hard during the weekend but we were always well within our limits and thatís really encouraging.Ē

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
ďIt was a very disappointing start to the rally as I was really looking forward to these stages. Things obviously got better. I had a good feeling in the car even on the tricky surfaces to the point where I set a second fastest stage time yesterday. It was very difficult with all the mud on the stages and sometimes it was hard to keep the car on the road. The most important thing was to score manufacturer points for the team and maintain my fourth place in the driver standings.Ē

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
ďWhat a great drive from Matthew, he has shown true grit and put in a really determined performance. He has demonstrated maturity, especially when the fight was on with Ogier, and this is definitely a product of the long term plan we have. It goes to show that finishing rallies and gaining experience of the stages is really working for him. With Henning backing him up, itís been another strong team performance for Stobart; the hard work by the mechanics in getting Henningís car back in the rally has paid off.Ē

Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
ďMatt has demonstrated this weekend that he really has got the potential and speed to win stages. I think something has really clicked for him on this rally and now he can go into Portugal with much more confidence; he really has taken a step forward and shown he can perform under pressure. Both he and Scott have shown skill, determination and a willingness to succeed; values that lie close to the Stobart brand. Henning has done a great job in coming back to score some points for the team and itís really put us in a stronger position in the championship.Ē

Final Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena (FRA) CitroŽn C4 4h50m34.7s
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS +27.2s
3. P Solberg/P Mills (NOR) CitroŽn Xsara +1m49.4s
4. D Sordo/M Marti (ESP) CitroŽn C4 +2m26.3s
5. M Wilson/S Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS +6m41.0s
6. C Rautenbach/D Barritt (ZW) CitroŽn C4 +11m11.9s
7. F Villagra/J Perez Companc (ARG) Ford Focus RS +13m18.5s
8. K Al Qassimi/M Orr (UAE) Ford Focus RS +13m44.1s
9. P Sandell/E Axelsson (SWE) Skoda Fabia +19.36.6s
10. A Arujo/R Miguel (POR) Mitusbishi Lancer +19.54.9s
18. H Solberg/C Menkerud (NOR) Ford Focus RS +33m04.1s

FIA WRC manufacturer standings
1. Citroen Total WRT - 48 2. BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT - 32
3. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford - 22 4. Citroen Junior Rally Team - 11
5. Munchiís Ford WRT - 3

FIA WRC driver standings
1. S Loeb - 30 2. M Hirvonen - 22 3. D Sordo - 17
4. H Solberg -10 5. P Solberg - 9 6. M Wilson - 8

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