Stobart Squad Steady during Day Two
Stobart M-Sport Ford’s Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin continued to make steady progress in their Ford Focus RS WRC during the second day of Rally New Zealand. Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor struggled during the morning’s 77.81km tests but steadily improved after the midday service, running second-fastest for the majority of the afternoon’s longest stage on Te Akau Coast.

Fifty of the original 54 entrants travelled one hour north of Auckland to take part in a series of stages in the Franklin and Northern Waikato region with parts of six out of the eight tests used in 2006, 2007 and 2008’s rally. The stages included two repeat loops of 77.81km including an exciting 4.68km Super Special Stage set on tarmac at the new international Hampton Downs Motor Race Circuit.

Henning Solberg reported handling issues in the rally’s opening day so his mechanics changed the rear diff during the overnight service. Team-mate, Matthew Wilson, had a new gearbox fitted after it malfunctioned during Friday’s penultimate stage along with a new fitted window after his door glass shattered in SS3.

Day two began with a stage comprising of 7.95km of asphalt before swapping to a final 12.87km gravel surface. The choice of road surface sparked controversy amongst drivers and Wilson reported that the mix of surfaces meant drivers would not take any risks during the morning’s opening test. Sebastien Loeb, however, recorded an extremely fast time during SS10 which moved the French driver into sixth position and knocked Wilson back into seventh.

Solberg continued to struggle throughout SS10 – SS12 but Wilson was sixth-fastest in SS12, completing the 30.89km stage 42.5 seconds faster than his Norwegian team-mate. Enthusiastic fans flocked to a unique remote service based at Hampton Downs Race Circuit to watch the WRC drivers compete in a 4.68km Super Special Stage at the end of the morning loop. At the end of SS13, Matthew Wilson was seventh overall and team-mate Henning Solberg was just behind in eighth position.

Remote service regulations combined with a short 15 minute service at Hampton Downs meant Solberg’s service team were unable to change the car’s steering rack – this would have helped the Ford Focus RS WRC perform more smoothly in the afternoon’s stages. Instead, Solberg’s mechanics adjusted the gear pot sensor and steering column to prevent further problems.

The changes to Solberg’s Focus RS WRC improved the Norwegian’s performance - he was second-fastest in SS16 until he reached 19.2km when he encountered difficulties braking. Solberg still ended up finishing 0.2 seconds behind Dani Sordo and sixth-fastest overall.

Tomorrow will consist of four stages comprising of 81.70km including the notoriously difficult Whaanga Coast stage which could prove pivotal in the final result. All four stages have been used in the 2006, 2007 and 2008 rally but SS18 and SS20 includes a new 1.47km tarmac start which will require the Stobart crews’ full concentration to ensure they finish the final day with a good end result.

Other Rally News:
The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team is in a good position going into the final day of Rally New Zealand as Jari Matti Latvala lies in third position, just 33 seconds behind leading Sebastien Ogier. Mikko Hirvonen is in sixth position overall.

The Citroen Rally Team are in a strong position at the end of day two as Sebastien Loeb produced a series of fast stage times which moved him from seventh position up to second overall. Sebastien Ogier is currently leading but only 5.3 seconds separate the two Citroen drivers.

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team
Federico Villagra made steady progress during the second day moving into tenth position and just 16.1 seconds behind SWRC competitor Ketomaa who currently lies in ninth position.

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“The road surfaces in the morning’s stages were loose and made it very slippery. They were less aggressive stages that yesterday though. During the morning, I felt I got a good rhythm in some of the stages but not in others – it was very mixed. The brakes were handling as well as they were in yesterday’s tests. I didn’t have any major problems during the afternoon as everything was a lot cleaner overall. I think there is due to be a bit of rain overnight which will be good for tomorrow’s stages.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I had handling issues again in the morning’s stages and also had problems with the front of the car. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t hold the steering wheel properly – it was especially bad during the second stage of the day. At the midday service I knew I had to just keep it going as best as I could as we had little time to deal with problems properly. This afternoon I felt like the car was much better but I had a few problems with the brakes. I really want to find the right rhythm tomorrow.”

Leaderboard after SS17
1. S Ogier/J Ingrassa FRA Citroen C4 3h05m40.4s
2. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 +5.3s
3. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS +33.2s
4. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 +47.5s
5. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Citroen C4 +53.6s
6. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +1m2s
7. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS +3m04.9s
8. H Solberg/I Minor NOR Ford Focus RS +5m41.4s
9. J Ketomaa/M Stenberg FIN Ford Fiesta S2000 +8m12.7s
10. F Villagra/J Companc ARG Ford Focus RS +8m28.8s

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