Stobart Scoops Points at Rally Sweden
A healthy points haul and a stunning stage win marked a fine start to the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship for the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team.

Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson finished the opening round of the season in sixth and seventh overall, securing a triple points finish for the Cumbrian squad. Former world champion Marcus Grönholm scored manufacturer points, a stage win and a string of top five stage times for the team despite technical problems and a puncture forcing him out of contention for a top ten spot.

After the rally officially opened with a Super Special stage in Karlstad on Thursday evening, the first full day on Friday saw 55 starting crews take on 126.34km of competitive stage distance in sub-zero temperatures. The three Stobart Ford Focus RS WRCs of Grönholm/Rautiainen, Solberg/Minor and Wilson/Martin started well and ran inside the top ten throughout the morning loop of three stages. However, in the afternoon there was plenty of drama as the stage surfaces deteriorated and much of the snow and ice was scraped away.

Stobart’s Grönholm suffered a setback when his Ford Focus RS WRC cut out mid-way through the 21.28km SS6 Viggen stage. He lost ten minutes but did get going again and recovered to go fourth-quickest on the following test. Henning Solberg ran well until a small off on the 19.21km SS7 Torntorp, then a change of gearbox back in service added a lateness penalty of 30seconds before he left for the evening’s Super Special. Matthew Wilson also lost time after stalling at a corner on SS6 Viggen and having Petter Solberg hit the rear of his Ford Focus RS WRC. Despite the damage caused by the incident Wilson went on to finish the day in eighth.

On Saturday Marcus Grönholm started the day’s 117.76km looking to climb back up the leaderboard to join team-mates Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson in the top-ten. He went second-fastest on the 14.23km SS10 Sagen, his favourite WRC stage, and fourth-quickest on the 18.15km SS11 Fredriksberg. However, his hopes of a comeback were dashed when he suffered a puncture on SS13 Vargasen and lost another five minutes.

Despite difficult road conditions putting real pressure on the special Pirelli SottoZero snow tyre used by all the crews, the Stobart team fared well in later stages. Grönholm took a fantastic stage win on SS14 Sagen and Matthew Wilson went sixth-fastest. Henning Solberg lost time due to opting not to change his tyres prior to the stage but still managed to complete the day sixth overall, while Wilson was just behind him in seventh. Marcus Grönholm’s luck ran out again, and after overshooting a junction and hitting a snow bank he lost his light pod and dropped to 29th.

The final day of Rally Sweden on Sunday featured 101.05km of stage distance over five tests. Grönholm started in fine fashion for Stobart by going third-quickest through SS17 Rämmen, while Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson continued to cruise towards good points finishes. Grönholm then went second-fastest on 10.49km SS19 Lesjofors as he revelled in the thick snow-covered surface of the test. Meanwhile, Solberg and Wilson enjoyed clean runs through the final loop to finish inside the top ten, chalk up their first points of 2010 and take a solid result from an extremely tough rally.

Other rally news
An excellent performance by BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team driver Mikko Hirvonen saw him power home to a victory over rival Sebastien Loeb. The Finn drove superlatively on the final leg to win by 42.3seconds and claim first blood in the 2010 WRC title battle. His team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala also climbed onto the podium after securing third with a fine performance. He made a big push on Saturday afternoon to knock Dani Sordo down to fourth and split the Citroen manufacturer team drivers at the end of the rally.

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Marcus Grönholm said:
“In proper snow conditions we have set some good times; the best stage for me was the second pass through Sagen. It was great to be fastest there ahead of the regular drivers. We were on a good pace when things went well but unfortunately we had too many small problems that dropped us a lot of time. So there was no chance to fight for a podium position, but it was always going to be hard coming here after such a big gap from regular rallying.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I’m happy with this result as it was always going to be a tough rally for me with little testing before the event and a new co-driver. It was hard on the first day but after we changed the gearbox on Friday night then the feeling became better. But the conditions were tough, especially with the ruts and the gravel coming through and it was easy to make a mistake. Ilka did a good job and I’m happy that we were able to work well together on the first rally. Sixth is fine for me but, honestly, I’m looking forward to Mexico and being back onto gravel.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“This has probably been the hardest snow rally I have done. The conditions were really difficult with grip levels and surfaces changing constantly and that makes it hard to build up confidence. But I’ve shown that when we had full snow and consistent conditions I was able to set some decent times. Saturday afternoon was the best part of the rally, we had a great feeling with the car and were pushing fairly hard. With such a difficult rally, I’m happy to come home seventh and not have made any mistakes; it’s a good position to really build upon for the rest of the championship.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Mattias Therman said:
“I’ve really enjoyed this rally but it has been quite difficult with the conditions on the stages. I’ve been driving well on the wider roads, everything seems to flow better together and work well and we had some good times on both runs through the Sagen stage. But it’s on the narrower roads and slower corners that I found it harder. I think it’s just a confidence thing as you need to get your head around the good grip on the ice.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s a solid start to the championship for both Henning and Matthew. I was really pleased with some of Matthew’s times when he had a good consistent run. It was a shame Marcus had his problems as he was really getting to the grips with the conditions and getting better with every stage. This was always going to be a difficult rally and I’m happy that the Stobart cars finished the event with no major problems.”

Final Leaderboard
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 3h09min30.4sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 +42.3sec
3. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS +1m15.4sec
4. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 +2m41.6sec
5. S Ogier/J Ingrassa FRA Citroen C4 +4m15.3sec
6. H Solberg/I Minor NOR Ford Focus RS +5m23.4sec
7. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS +7m53.9sec
8. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Subaru Impreza +9m22.2sec
21. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS +23m30.8sec
25. M Therman/J Perälä FIN Ford Focus RS +24m03.9sec

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