Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg are in hot pursuit of yet another strong points finish in the latest round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally de Portugal, after ending day one in seventh and ninth places respectively.

With the front runners in tomorrow’s stages expected to have their hands full clearing loose gravel from the course, those lying further down the field could have a tactical advantage in what is turning out to be an extremely close contest.

Day one could not have been more of a contrast from Thursday night’s thrilling Super Special stage cheered on by thousands of supporters in Algarve Stadium as the rally moved into the hills to the north of the service park for 136.21kms of challenging stages for the 68 crews.

Drivers were met with routes which switched quickly between wide, fast roads and narrow, winding tracks which made it hard to find a rhythm. The reliable Pirelli Scorpion tyres stood up well to the tough conditions made even more challenging with large rocks on some of the stages.

With victory in the Super Special stage under his belt Solberg was brimming with confidence going into day one. But the Norwegian suffered some brake problems midway through the opening stage of the day, the 23.42km Ourique 1, losing around 30 seconds on the early pace setters which dropped him out of the top ten.

After resolving the brake issue at the midday service Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud performed solidly on the afternoon stages maintaining their points-scoring position and ended the day just 0.1 seconds behind Evgeny Novikov ahead of them; setting them up for a good run tomorrow with several crews within striking distance.

Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin enjoyed a largely trouble-free first section climbing steadily up the leaderboard from their overnight position of 11th. Wilson showed excellent pace on the opening stage edging out former World Champion Petter Solberg by 0.2 seconds which moved him up to sixth place overall. Some pacenote issues on the final morning stage lost Wilson a few seconds but it marked another mature performance from the young Briton.

As in Cyprus last month Wilson looks set to be embroiled in another fascinating battle with Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier. The hard-charging Frenchman overhauled the 7.2 second lead that Wilson held at the end of the morning stages. But Wilson has a good start position for tomorrow and with the rally finely poised he is set up for another impressive day as he bids to complete his impressive run of points-scoring finishes.

On day two the drivers return to the hills and expect to face similar conditions. The day features the longest stage of the rally, the 27.18km Almodovar which they will cover twice as part of the 145.18km total for the day.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“We’ve had a really good day today and it’s all been relatively trouble-free. We had good road position this morning and our times have been even better this afternoon which is really encouraging, especially as I still feel that we’ve got a little in reserve. The stages tomorrow are similar to today and we’ve got good road position again so we will be trying to match today’s pace. The car feels great so we’re not planning on making any changes as I want to keep the same set up.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I am really pleased because I did exactly what I set out to do this morning. Ok, there were some small issues with the brakes but the mechanics fixed those during the service and the car felt much better this afternoon. What it says to me is that we have a really good start position for tomorrow. I think the surface will be much looser than today so the early starters will have some work to do.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Matthew has followed on well from his good performance in Cyprus. He has had some great times today and got himself into a strong position on the road for tomorrow’s stages. Henning is in a similar situation and has really improved during the day. It has been a solid start for both of them. They are both in points-scoring positions so the plan is to maintain that tomorrow.”

Other Rally News
Early rally leader Jari-Matti Latvala’s rally ended dramatically on SS4 when his car somersaulted the barrier and flipped around 20 times before coming to rest against a tree. Remarkably both Latvala and co-driver Miikka Antilla emerged unscathed. His BP Ford Abu Dhabi team mate Mikko Hirvonen leads the rally by 15 seconds from Dani Sordo with Sebastien Loeb a further three seconds back in third. Former World Champion Marcus Gronholm is lying fourth in his return to the WRC.

Leaderboard at the end of Day One
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen(FIN) Ford Focus RS 1h24m12.6s
2. D Sordo/M Marti (ESP) Citroën C4 +15.0s
3. S Loeb/D Elena (FRA) Citroën C4 +18.0s
4. M Gronholm /T Rautiainan (FIN) Subaru Impreza +23.9s
5. P Solberg/P Mills (NOR) Citroën Xsara +42.2s
6. S Ogier/J Ingrassia (FRA) Citroën C4 +1m04.0s
7. M Wilson/S Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS +1m14.6s
8. E Novikov/D Moscatt (RUS) Citroën C4 +1m33.7s
9. H Solberg/C Menkerud (NOR) Ford Focus RS +1m33.8s
10. Mads Ostberg/O Unnerud (NOR) Subaru Impreza +2m42.1s

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