Entering its sixth season in the world championship, Ford’s second string began the campaign with new recruit Mads Ostberg competing alongside team regulars Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson.
The young Norwegian made an instant impact, claiming two stage wins to hold the overnight lead after the opening day on the snow and ice of round one, despite a dearth of pre-event testing.
Although he ultimately failed to fend off factory Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen for victory, Ostberg remained in contention until the rally-closing Power Stage to secure the runner-up spot 6.5s behind the more experienced Finn.
Ostberg, whose undoubted talent had often been masked by uncompetitive machinery and driving errors during his early career, had become an overnight star and was soon being talked up as a future works Ford pilot.
He backed up that early season promise with an encouraging fifth place on Rally Guanajuato Mexico, an event he’d never tackled previously, only for his bid to go awry on round three, Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
With prior knowledge of the Algarve’s gravel roads and a favourable road position, much was expected of Ostberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson. However, his challenge would soon unravel when he broke his Fiesta RS WRC’s front-right wheel slamming into a kerb during the opening superspecial stage in Lisbon before retiring on stage two with a broken gearbox.
Following a second non-score in Jordan, Ostberg hit back with a brace of fifth-place finishes in Italy and Argentina only for a mechanical failure to force his exit from the opening day of the Acropolis Rally in Greece.
It was in Argentina where Ostberg first spoke about his worsening financial situation. Although he’d never been able to commit to a full programme, his father Morten’s tireless efforts appeared to have secured the cash for all but Rally Australia. However, unless more support can be found, next month’s ADAC Rallye Deutschland could be Ostberg’s last appearance of the season.
Money woes have also plagued Solberg and Wilson, Ostberg’s team-mates. Wilson began the season with a guarantee of only three rallies and his continued participation in the series remains in the balance beyond Neste Oil Rally Finland. Solberg skipped Rally Argentina at the end of May to finalise his programme for the rest of the year.
Aside from a mechanical failure-induced retirement in Mexico, Wilson has been the model of consistency all season, scoring on all but one round alongside co-driver Scott Martin. The Briton’s performances resulted in his nomination as M-Sport Stobart’s second nominated driver for manufacturers’ championship points from Rally Italia Sardegna onwards amid Solberg’s poor run of form, caused by a succession of mechanical failures and the uncertainty over his programme.
Ostberg and Wilson are the team’s nominated point-scorers in Finland and both will be desperate for strong results to keep their seasons alive. Both drivers have been prevented from carrying out any meaningful testing this year due to their budgetary restrictions but Ostberg has pooled together the funds to contest the non-championship Rally Estonia next week. He’s reasoned that the high-speed gravel event will be the perfect preparation for Finland, which could be make a break for one of the sport’s brightest stars.
PG Andersson and Evgeny Novikov have both run under the M-Sport Stobart banner this season, impressing on selected appearances for the British squad. Andersson was a stage winner in Sweden, while Novikov has set competitive times on his return to the sport following a one-year gap.