After 14 rounds, the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship season comes to a close next week as crews head to the UK for round 15 of 15; Wales Rally GB. This marks a golden milestone for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team who enter their 50th WRC event after four years involvement within the elite level of the sport.
Nominated to score points for the team are founding members of the Stobart outfit, Cumbrians Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin. This will be the pair’s third attempt at Rally GB together and Wilson’s fifth after first contesting the event in 2004 at the tender age of just 17 in a Ford Focus RS WRC. After a solid year which sees the 21-year-old lie 10th in the Drivers’ Championship the young Brit will be hoping to close the year in a positive fashion on his home event next week.
Backing up the pair as the second nominated point scoring crew is François Duval who joins the Stobart side for the fifth time this season. He will be joined by experienced co-driver Denis Giraudet with regular co-driver Patrick Pivato out of action as he continues his positive recovery from injuries sustained on Rally Japan last month. This is the Belgian’s seventh Rally GB attempt and with a raft of top-five finishes under his belt this season, he will be aiming for another strong performance on gravel. Duval will also run the name of Pivato’s wife – Agnès – on the front of his Focus RS as a gesture to his injured friend.
Another Stobart supported crew at Wales Rally GB is MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi and his co-driver Carlo Cassina who will sport a fully liveried Stobart Focus RS incorporating the Children in Need charity’s logo and mascot, Pudsey Bear. This will be Rossi’s third WRC event and his first in a Focus RS as the Italian looks to go one better than his previous WRC outing in New Zealand in 2006 and slide into the top-10 for the first time in his career. His passion for motorsport and boundless energy will provide a real attraction for spectators and instil a shot of Italian energy into the Stobart team.
Henning Solberg lines up as the next Stobart entered driver and he will be accompanied by Cato Menkerud as the pair look to finish the season on a high. Solberg comes in as the most experienced of the lot having contested the British-based event seven times. Yet to crack into the top-10 the Norwegian will be hungry for a good result here as he currently lies equal on points with team-mate Duval in a battle for seventh in the Drivers’ Championship.
Next up is WRC class newcomer Barry Clark who is being co-driven by Irishman Paul Nagle. In only his first season in a world rally car, Clark has secured two top-10 finishes from three starts including a sterling drive in Corsica; his first WRC car drive on asphalt. This will be the Scotsman’s fourth attempt at his ‘home’ event and his experience of the roads will put him in good shape to attempt to score his first ever WRC drivers’ point.
The final two Stobart entries will both run Focus RS cars and are household names within British rallying who have vast experience of the Welsh-based forests. Steve Perez – owner of the team’s primary sponsor VK and Kick Energy – will be attempting Rally GB for the first time since 2003 in his strikingly branded WRC machine.
Scotsman Dave Weston and co-driver Aled Davies join the army with Weston contesting his third ever WRC event in Wales. As a former Scottish Rally Champion Weston is all too aware of the conditions crews are likely to face and will be hoping to battle the elements to a strong Rally GB result in 2008.
This year Wales Rally GB is set to be another nail-biter with both the WRC Manufacturer title and Production WRC title still to be decided on this final round of the season. The event will once again be predominantly based in Swansea with a ceremonial start and the 0.99 kilometre Millennium Stadium super special taking place in the country’s capital Cardiff.
In total crews will cover 349 kilometres of competitive distance over 19 special stages. Rally GB has always been one of the biggest challenges of the season for crews with rain, wind, snow and fog forming difficult conditions. Roads are typically muddy and slippery and, with heavy ruts likely to form over the second run of stages, this will also be a stern test for Pirelli’s tried and tested Scorpion control tyre.
However, this year’s Rally GB is forecast to be one of the toughest so far. With some stages run in darkness and speed tests that haven’t been used for a few years, competitors are under pressure to perform without making any mistakes.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“The plan for GB is to go as quick as possible from the start and try and match the result from last year, if not better it. It is interesting to have some new stages on the Friday and this will spice things up a bit for the opening day. I guess the only down side is that while this is the event we have most experience of, the new stages and the reversed stages from 2007 will mean we’ll have to write entirely new notes but this is going to be the same for everybody and for me it’s good to have lots of experience of what the conditions will be like. It’s a strong field as well but I’m feeling very confident ahead of this one and I think we will know a lot more about the route after recce.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver François Duval said:
“I’m looking forward to returning to Rally GB because I have had some good results here in the past. Denis has come in as my replacement co-driver for this rally and I am very thankful to him for this gesture because I think it will help my confidence a lot in my first rally since Japan. I am going to head to the first stage and take it step by step from there. This rally can be very difficult especially if the conditions turn bad and this can have a big influence on the results. I think with the new stages on Friday and the fact I have not done this event since 2006, that it will be very important to get a good set of notes from recce.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“This year seems like it has gone very quickly and now here we are at the final round of the season. I have done GB a lot of times before but never quite managed to pick up a good result so I will try my best to change that this year. I like the stages in GB and I will try my best on this event and drive as fast as I can. The roads can be difficult at GB but this is my eighth time here so I know what to expect from them. The Focus has been great all year and I have had an especially good felling on gravel.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Barry Clark said:
“This is my fourth WRC event of the season and one I have been waiting all year for because it will be on some familiar territory. It’s great to be competing under the Stobart banner here in GB and I look forward to competing with some top class team mates who I will be able to learn from. The first day there are some classic stages which I am really looking forward to and hopefully if it stays dry and the conditions consistent, we can put in a quick pace from the start.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s great to see the Stobart Team’s 50th WRC event has coincided with Wales Rally GB and to have seven cars running under the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford bann er really shows the strength the team has in the championship. Matthew was sixth here last year and he will be looking to improve on this position with this now being his fifth attempt at the rally. François has a good track record in GB but it is his first rally since the accident in Japan so it might take him a bit to settle back in and get used to his new co-driver. Having a six-time World Champion in the Stobart team is fantastic for the rally and hopefully ‘The Doctor’ can attract some of his two-wheel fans to the spectacle of Wales Rally GB. I think if conditions stay dry and consistent a top-10 finish is definitely within his reach.”
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