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The battle for the 2007 Fiesta Sporting Trophy International (FSTi) will begin at Rally Norway this weekend.  

The winner of the series will follow in the footsteps of the 2006 victor, Italian driver Alessandro Bettega, who will be moving up to the Junior Rally Championship in 2007 at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta S1600, provided by M-Sport, organisers of the Fiesta Sporting Trophy and the team that supported the BP-Ford World Rally Team to victory in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.

Competitors in the one-make championship will drive identical Ford Fiesta ST GpN cars with the 2-litre Duratec engine.  The seven round series takes the drivers from the freezing mountains of Norway to another new event for 2007 in the Rally de Portugal.  

The series continues on the gravel of Sardinia in May, followed by a summer break before two rounds take place in quick succession in August.  First are the classic stages of Finland and then the first asphalt event of the season in Germany.  Rally Catalunya is next in October, before the final showdown in December at Wales Rally GB.

Britain’s Barry Clark and co-driver Scott Martin will be eager to start the new season where they finished 2006 - on top!  With victory on the final round of the 2006 series on Wales Rally GB, they will be looking to improve on their second place in last year’s championship, when they also took the title of ‘Rookie Champions’ in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship.

Fellow Brit, Simon Hughes, will be keen to challenge Clark and Martin and looks to be in good form, having won the recent Red Kite Stages in January in a Ford Focus WRC 05, part of a prize that Simon won in the UK-based FST series. Hughes will be guided by Claire Mole, who has 20 years of co-driving experience to her name, sitting with the likes of Gwyndaf Evans, Mark Higgins, Steve Perez and Emma Gilmour.
 
Facing the Brits will be Russian Rally Championship contenders Evgeniy Vertunov and co-driver Georgiy Troshkin, who will once again face their European counterparts after finishing seventh in a partial FSTi programme last year. 
 
A new competitor to the FSTi in 2007 is Vytautas Baranauskas, who began rallying in his native Lithuania only last year.  While Baranauskas may have limited rally experience, he has earned the title of Baltic States Autocross Champion and is two-times Lithuanian Rallycross Champion.   
 
One of the biggest challenges for victory will come from Sveinung Bieltvedt, winner of class N3 in the Norwegian Championship in 2006 in his familiar Fiesta ST.  The Norwegian carries the home advantage on a surface that will be unfamiliar to his fellow FSTi competitors and will be guided by co-driver Lars Brænna, himself 2001 Norwegian Rally Champion.
 
Bieltvedt can expect vocal support from the Norwegian fans on an event that is sure to provide challenging and extreme conditions. 

Based around the rapidly developing Hamar region, Rally Norway has a total distance of 1110km, 355km of which are competitive on the snow-covered stages.  The Service Park is set around the Hamar Olympic Hall or ‘The Viking Ship’, which was built to host the speed skating events during the 17th Winter Olympic Games in 1994.
 
M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson said:
“We were delighted with the FSTi package that we launched in 2006, over the course of the year, 17 drivers from 11 countries competed within the series and I am confident that we will again be able to provide drivers with a fun, economical and competitive championship as a first step from national series into the WRC. The addition of a snow rally in 2007 will not only present an exciting challenge for drivers, but will also provide great experience for those wishing to climb the ranks of the WRC.”
 
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