Stobart Squad scoop points in Portugal
Stobart M-Sport Ford’s Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin made it safely to the end of a tough round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) in Portugal this weekend, finishing in sixth position overall. Team-mates Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor were less fortunate and retired in the final day due to a broken alternator belt on their Ford Focus RS WRC.

The Vodafone Rally de Portugal kicked off in the Algarve Stadium on Thursday evening with an exciting tarmac Super Special Stage. Constructed in 2004, huge crowds flocked to watch the WRC drivers go head to head round the spectacular flood-lit 2.03km speed test. Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor were paired with Henning’s younger brother Petter, and finished the test only 0.1 seconds off claiming fourth position. Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin finished the opening test seventh-fastest overall.

Despite a shaky start from Solberg on Friday, the Norwegian steadily improved throughout the morning’s opening loop and finished SS3 sixth-fastest. This fast stage time helped close the gap on his team-mate and just 0.1 seconds separated the Cumbrian based squads as they entered the final test of the morning. Solberg produced another excellent time on SS4 and finished fifth-fastest overall, just 0.3 seconds BP Ford Abu Dhabi’s Jari-Matti Latvala. At the end of the first morning, the Norwegian moved up into seventh position and Wilson was moved back into eighth.

Solberg continued to improve his times during Friday afternoon and clocked the third-fastest time in the day’s final test, just 2.6 seconds off claiming second place in the stage. At the end of the day 33.9 seconds separated Solberg in seventh position and Wilson in eighth and the Norwegian was just 17.9 seconds from claiming sixth position as he entered day two.

Saturday was the longest day of the rally and comprised of 135.10km of competitive distance covering six gravel stages north of the service park, including a repeat loop of the rally’s longest stage, 26.20km Almodovar (SS8 and SS11), which kicked off the morning and afternoon loop. On this tough opening stage, Wilson encountered braking problems half way through the test and reported he was struggling with grip on the rear end of his Ford Focus RS WRC. Solberg also reported problems with his fuel pump but finished the test 2.8 seconds faster than his Cumbrian team-mate.

During the midday service, Solberg’s fuel pumps were changed and the Stobart-backed crews encountered no major difficulties when tackling the repeat afternoon loop. Solberg improved his times in the repeat loop, finishing SS11 fifth-fastest and pulling into the end of day service in sixth position. Wilson was sitting comfortably behind Solberg in seventh position with no immediate threat as he lay 54.9 seconds ahead of Mads Ostberg.

Sunday's final day of Vodafone Rally de Portugal was the shortest of the event, with the action centred round four gravel stages in the Serra do Caldeirão hills, north of Faro and a second visit to the Super Special Stage at the Algarve Stadium. The final stage in the Stadium comprised of four laps of a tight and twisty circuit inside the stadium and a faster section through the car park outside.

During Sunday’s first 21.28km stage, Felizes 1, Solberg reported lots of dust spilling into his Ford Focus RS WRC and he had to stop mid-test to clear his screen which cost him over 30 seconds in time. Wilson reported hitting bedrock in SS14 which caused havoc for the young Briton’s steering. However, Solberg suffered more serious problems in SS15 when the alternator belt on his Ford Focus RS WRC snapped and the Norwegian was forced to retire from the rally.

Team-mate Wilson moved up into sixth position as a result of his team-mate’s misfortune and managed to finish the final Super Special Stage second-fastest, just 0.7 seconds off the fastest time set by Federico Villagra.

After the misfortune of Solberg’s retirement on the final day of Rally de Portugal, the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team remain fourth in the Manufacturers’ Championship Standings and the gap between the Cumbrian squads and the Citroen Juniors has now extended to 22 points.

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“Today’s stages were a lot more enjoyable than yesterday. However, there were plenty of places can catch you out so I needed to maintain my concentration to the very end. I hit some bedrock in the second stage of the morning which affected my steering, and it felt like I was physically getting the wheel ripped out of my hands at times. Tyre-wear was such a huge problem in this rally and it was difficult from start to finish – I’m just glad to have made it to the end.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“It was very disappointing to have had to retire in the closing day here in Portugal. I had a few problems over the weekend but when the car was going well, I made some very fast stage times. Yesterday was a tough day and I had problems with my fuel pressure in the morning which slowed me down a lot. We also experienced many of problems with dust here and in today’s opening stage it was so dusty in the car that we had to stop and wipe the screen.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“We saw a really strong performance from Matthew in Portugal this weekend - it is a very difficult rally and he really deserves his position. He has steadily grown in confidence during the last few WRC rounds and his performance has been consistently good. It was unlucky that Henning had to retire when he was so near to finishing the rally but when he wasn’t suffering from any mechanical problems, he managed to set some really fast stage times.”

Final Leaderboard
1. S Ogier/J Ingrassa FRA Citroen C4 3hr 51min 16.1sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 3hr 52min 24.0sec
3. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 3hr 52min 33.7sec
4. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Citreon C4 3hr 52min 48.1sec
5. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 52min 51.8sec
6. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS 3hr 58min 26.2sec
7. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Subaru Impreza 3hr 58 min 44.4sec
8. F Villagra/J Campanc ARG Ford Focus RS 4hr 01min 52.2sec
9. K Al Qassimi/M Orr UAE Ford Focus RS 4hr 02min 11.9sec
10. K Räikkönen/K Lindström FIN Citroen C4 4hr 02min 50.4sec

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