M-Sport Stobart debutant Evgeny Novikov is locked in a two-way battle for fourth place with Ford Abu Dhabi’s Jari-Matti Latvala at the end of the first full day of action at Rally Mexico.
Novikov’s fifth place is a remarkable achievement considering the 20-year-old Russian had completed no testing in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC prior to Mexico.
The dusty central American stages were also new to Novikov but this did not phase the WRC’s youngest ever stage winner who adopted a mature driving approach and steadily climbed the leaderboard to finish the first day just 10.4 seconds adrift of Latvala in fourth.
Britain’s Matthew Wilson got off to a flying start in the team’s other Fiesta RS WRC, reporting good car handling at the midday service and on track to equalling his best ever WRC result.  The 24-year-old Briton and co-driver Scott Martin moved up into a career-best fourth place at the end of Stage 6.
However, disaster struck when an electrical problem on Stage 7 meant a disappointed Wilson was forced to retire.  It is not yet known if the M-Sport Stobart team-mate will return to the rally under SupeRally regulations tomorrow.
In what proved to be a difficult day for the Cumbrian-based squad, Mads Østberg also hit trouble when his Fiesta RS WRC suffered from a puncture at the start of Stage 3.  Despite losing nearly four minutes, the 23-year-old Norwegian battled back and climbed the WRC leaderboard to finish the day 11th overall.
Henning Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor reported difficulties with the car set-up on the opening leg but steered clear of trouble during the repeat afternoon pass to finish the first full day of Rally Mexico sixth overall, 12.5 seconds behind M-Sport Stobart team-mate Novikov.
Evgeny Novikov said:
“I never expected to be in this position at the end of the first day, I really didn’t. I had a small problem with the steering wheel but that was fixed at service but apart from that everything has been good.  The car has been running very nicely and I am feeling very comfortable.  I had no expectations before I started this rally – so many of the other drivers have been in Mexico many times before and this is my first time.  This rally is about learning the car and finding a comfortable speed.  I do not want to take any risks.  It’s been tough on the roads, it’s easy to see how accidents can happen.  I’m happy with my position but we’ve still got two very tough days to get through so I must not get too confident yet.”
Henning Solberg said:
“The car is working much better this afternoon but, for sure, it has been a tough first day.  The roads were a little clearer this afternoon but there were still some big rocks so we had to be careful and take a different line to avoid some of them.  It can be easy to get punctures on such rough road conditions but I try my best.  A lot has happened today so I think tomorrow I will aim to keep the car on the road and hope that we can move into the top five.”
Mads Østberg said:
“I was not able to keep up with the best today – it is as simple as that.  Obviously the puncture this morning did not help us but this afternoon we kept on getting caught up in Jari-Matti’s dust.  We were very cautious this morning but we had to be as we are learning a lot on this rally - everything is new here.  I did not want to push too hard and I’m really quite happy with how the stages have gone today.  We now have a good road position tomorrow and we will just see how things go.  I had no expectations here in Mexico but I knew there would be lots of challenges.  Today has certainly proved it is tough out on the roads but everything has been quite OK and we will just wait and see what will happen tomorrow.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“What can I say? It’s been a really disappointing afternoon.  The conditions were difficult before we retired – there were lots of loose stones on the road so we had to change our lines but everything was going well and the car set-up was good. Then on Stage 7 everything went wrong when the car stopped due to an electrical problem.  We weren’t sure what it was at first but the team are trying to sort it now.  It’s so frustrating after we’d worked our way up to fourth place and for this to happen.  I don’t know what else to say, I’m just hugely disappointed.”
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