The 2008 FIA World Rally Championship launched into full flight this evening as crews set off to tackle the opening day of the traditional season-opener, Rallye Monte-Carlo. By the end of the evening the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team finished with both its nominated point scoring drivers inside the top-seven with François Duval/Eddy Chevailler leading the way in an impressive fifth overall.
Italians Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini opted for a cautious start in their first WRC appearance since March last year but still managed to finish the day in a solid seventh position. Despite a huge spin on the opening 28.12 kilometre test Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin brought their Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 home in 13th as they look to attack on the first daytime stages of the year tomorrow.
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud sit one spot back in 14th after a steady start on the extremely tricky conditions. With ice forming on several sections of tonight’s stages crews were given a huge task just to bring their cars back to service in one piece. 
The 2008 season began as crews drove over the Champ de Mars start ramp before heading out to tackle 45.7 kilometres of gruelling tarmac action under the night skies of southern France. It was a true test of confidence for drivers who opened proceedings with two winding tarmac stages.
Before this, teams had their first taste of Rallye Monte-Carlo action when they tested their state-of-the-art World Rally Cars over the 5.03 kilometre shakedown stage in Vernoux en Vivarais located just over 40 kilometres from Rally HQ in Valence.
After threatening snow over the past two evenings, today’s blue skies and rising temperatures throughout the Ardeche region meant a much dryer tarmac attack as darkness fell. All four Stobart crews therefore opted to run with the all-new Pirelli PZero dry asphalt slick tyre as Pirelli becomes the official supplier for the 2008 season which is now under the FIA’s controlled tyre regulations.
In this historical event for the Stobart team – with four entered, and three liveried, World Rally Cars – it has been a grand effort for all crews to finish this risky opening day of the year all inside the top-15.
The only other small issue for the team was a slight off from Duval when he slid on a big patch of ice into a small wall on stage 1 but with no major damage to the car. Solberg also had some minor issues when he spun on the opening test and then stalled on the start-line of the following.
Tomorrow sees the first daytime stages of 2008 as crews embark on a 117 kilometre journey through day 2 which sees the teams cover three repeated special stages to the west of Rally HQ in the northern Ardeche region.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Gigi Galli said:
“Tonight was my first competitive stage in the car and generally it went OK. We drove in the middle of the road and I enjoyed the stages tonight even though they were tricky in places. We made some small mistakes on the first stage and slid wide on a patch of ice we didn’t know about. Tonight’s stages were very fast which was probably not the best for me but I am happy to be safely finished the first day.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver François Duval said:
“There was a section of ice on the first stage and we slid into a small wall luckily without much damage but we didn’t know where the ice ended so I think I was driving too slowly for a while on that section. There was also a warning of some snow on stage 2 so we slowed down for that also. The car wasn’t feeling exactly right for me tonight so we will make some changes in service for tomorrow’s stages.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Henning Solberg said:
“This was a very difficult start to a rally and it was especially difficult with patches of ice and I didn’t have the best feeling with the car. We had a spin on the first stage and a stall on the start-line of the second so things didn’t go perfectly for us tonight. The ice and slippery surface make it difficult to get a good feeling and confidence with the car but, OK, no big mistakes tonight.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Matthew Wilson said:
“We expected tonight to be difficult and it certainly was that. The ice seemed to catch most people out as a lot of it was not there when the safety crews went through earlier. We had a spin near the end of the first stage which cost us some time but apart from that it has been OK tonight. In the dry the tyres are working really well but in the wet and slippery stuff they are a bit more difficult.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“I’m glad all four cars and crews have made it back safely tonight. We needed a solid start to the event with no problems and that’s what we have. Both nominated drivers are in the points and with this event the first in the new Focus for both guys, they have done well tonight.”
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