Stobart March On in Mexico
Day one of Rally Mexico saw the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team claim top ten positions in the overall standings after a tough test in the dusty Central American stages.

In what proved to be a difficult day for Ford Focus RS WRC crews, Stobart drivers Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson steered clear of trouble and finished the first leg of the rally in seventh and eighth overall, just behind the factory Ford crews in fifth and sixth.

Henning Solberg was hot on the heels of championship leader Mikko Hirvonen throughout the day and was pleased at the progress he and co-driver Ilka Minor were making with their partnership, which is new for the 2010 season and includes a switch to making pace notes in English. Solberg was hoping to overhaul Hirvonen in the afternoon’s loop of five stages but lost time on the 18.87km SS7 El Cubilete after hitting a rock and upsetting the balance of his car, and had to remain content with keeping the gap to the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver to just six seconds by the finish of the day.

Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin made a solid start to the rally and were good making headway until a heavy landing after a big jump on the 23.83km SS2 Ortega unsettled the rear of their Ford Focus RS WRC and Wilson struggled with a lack of grip thereafter. A setup change at morning service helped the young Cumbrian to get back into a good rhythm and notch up steady top ten stage times throughout the afternoon.

The two Stobart team-mates went head-to head at the end of the day in the León Autodrome Super Special Stage, with the Norwegian clocking in an impressive fourth-fastest and finishing highest of all the Ford drivers on each of the two passes through the spectator-friendly test.

On Saturday the Stobart crews will face another nine stages of competitive distance totalling 158.82km. The route includes a real variety of challenges, including the longest stage of the rally, the 29.90km Ibarilla test, and re-runs of the 1.5km Coca-Cola Street Stage and 2.21km Super Special Stage.

The Stobart team’s Ford Focus RS WRCs will look to take advantage of their good road position for Saturday by allowing the first cars on the road to sweep clear the loose gravel and then make the most of the durable Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyre to improve their positions.

Other rally news
Citroen crews dominated the opening leg of the rally, locking out the first four positions in the overall standings.

The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Ford Focus RS WRC of championship leader Mikko Hirvonen was hindered by his road position, having to sweep the stages due to being first on the road throughout the day. He finished day one sixth overall, while team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala was just ahead in fifth.

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team driver Federico Villagra eased his way back into WRC action in his first event of the 2010 season. The Argentine gradually upped his pace throughout the day as he adjusted to driving the Ford Focus RS WRC in competition for the first time since Rally Spain in October 2009, finishing the day in ninth position overall.

The Monster World Rally Team crew of Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino enjoyed a good start to their WRC career as they spent their first full day of action running in the top ten. Despite very limited experience of driving the Ford Focus RS WRC prior to the event they adapted well to competing on the big stage and kept pace with more experienced members of the field to finish the day tenth overall.

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I am quite happy as we have been keeping up with Mikko for most of the day. We dropped a bit of time on stage seven though as we hit something and the rear was making a funny noise, but it was not too big a problem. The car has felt very good all day apart from that and the Super Special Stage was good fun. My road position is good for the next day so we will see what we can do then.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“We were a bit disappointed with our pace at the end of the morning because we had started well, but we were really struggling with lack of grip at the rear of the car. We made some changes to the setup in service and that seemed to make it better, but didn’t solve it completely. It’s been a difficult rally so far as it’s really slippery out there, even though the cars ahead of us were clearing it a bit. We’ll definitely be looking to pick it up again tomorrow.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Both Stobart cars have had a very steady day. The stages have been deceptively tough and it’s easy to make a mistake out there, but Henning and Matthew have avoided any major problems and are in a good position to improve tomorrow because of their road position. The stages on Saturday should give both the Stobart crews an opportunity to show what they are capable of given a clean run.”

Leaderboard after SS9
1. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Citroen C4 1h23min39.9sec
2. S Ogier/J Ingrassa FRA Citroen C4 +15.0sec
3. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 +27.5sec
4. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 +40.8sec
5. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS +1m01.2sec
6. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +1m31.5sec
7. H Solberg/I Minor NOR Ford Focus RS +1m37.5sec
8. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS +2m47.2sec
9. F Villagra/Pérez Companc ARG Ford Focus RS +4m.19.8sec
10. K Block/A Gelsomino USA Ford Focus RS +4m.33.3sec

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