Action hots up for Stobart after SS4 of Rally Sweden
The Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team made a solid start to the first full day of Rally Sweden and secured top ten spots in the standings after the first loop of stages today (Friday).
The event schedule saw starting crews head into the countryside around Hagfors early in the morning to face ice-covered stages in temperatures as low as -25C.
The 20.78km SS2 Likenäs stage was first up, and while drivers reported good conditions on the road it still proved to be a real challenge. Stobart’s Marcus Grönholm posted the seventh-fastest time but felt there was plenty of room for improvement after a cautious start. Team-mate Henning Solberg completed the stage ninth-quickest after reporting problems with his windscreen misting up. Matthew Wilson followed Solberg with the tenth-fastest time of the opening test, after struggling to find grip in the early part of the stage.
SS3 Viggen saw the crews tackle 21.28km, which had slightly less packed ice on the route than they would have liked in order to find the best grip. However, the Stobart Ford Focus RS WRCs made steady progress with no major dramas and Grönholm completed it seventh-fastest, Henning Solberg eighth and Wilson tenth.
Conditions brightened and the final stage of the morning’s opening loop, the 19.21km SS4 Torntop, took place under clear sunny skies. Marcus Grönholm continued to re-familiarise himself with the Ford Focus RS WRC and competition pace after coming back out of retirement and clocked the sixth-fastest time, placing him sixth overall just behind Frenchman Sébastien Ogier. Henning Solberg was less happy with the setup of his Ford Focus RS WRC during SS4 and finished it ninth-fastest, just 0.3 behind his brother Petter. However, that still meant Henning was eighth in the overall standings ahead of Petter in ninth. Matthew Wilson passed through SS4 tenth quickest, just behind team-mate Solberg, and remained in tenth overall.
With all three Stobart crews occupying top ten positions they will be looking to pick up the pace over the second loop of the same stages and pick off those just ahead of them on the leaderboard, before returning to Karlstad to round off the day at the SS8 Super Special Stage.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Marcus Gronholm said:
“It’s been a very difficult morning and not easy to find a good rhythm. I’m not happy to be so far behind already because we have been trying very hard. I think it will come the more we drive and we can get closer to the pace. We will make a few small changes to the dampers to try and get the car turning in better on the high-speed sections. Then maybe we can improve a lot more in the afternoon.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“It has been tough and the front of the car does not feel like it should. It is moving around a lot in the ruts and that has been hard to drive through. We will work with the engineers to get to the bottom of that in service and try to find a better setting. The partnership with Ilka has been working well though and we are happy with that.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“The first two stages were not great from our point of view. The car was moving up and down a lot more than expected over the bumps and we were not comfortable with the overall feel. I was a lot happier with my driving in the third stage though, and even though we had a half spin because we were pushing hard it just came together a little bit more. That give me confidence that if we can sort out the setup in service then we can improve our times in the afternoon.”
Leaderboard after SS4
1. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 33min53.2sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +4.1sec
3. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 +6.0sec
4. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS +18.0sec
5. S Ogier/J Ingrassa FRA Citroen C4 +34.4sec
6. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS +42.5sec
7. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Subaru Impreza +54.6sec
8. H Solberg/I Minor NOR Ford Focus RS +58.1sec
9. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Citroen C4 +58.6sec
10. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS +1m39.7sec
21. M Therman/J Perälä FIN Ford Focus RS +3m56.1sec