The M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team will welcome Russia’s Evgeny Novikov, the youngest ever driver to set a fastest WRC stage time, into their Cumbrian-based squad for next week’s Rally Mexico.
The 20-year-old made his debut in the FIA World Rally Championship at 2007’s Wales Rally GB but was absent from the series last year after spending the season competing at home events in Russia. Novikov originally planned to embark on his 2011 campaign in the new Ford Fiesta RS WRC at Rally Portugal but has since moved this forward in order to build up his experience of competing on gravel.
Novikov, whose best WRC result is fifth from 2009’s Rally d’Italia Sardegna, will be co-driven by experienced Belgian Stéphane Prévot and the pair will be looking to make a good impression on their first outing in Ford’s new challenger.
Rally Sweden runner-up, Mads Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson will also be competing under the M-Sport Stobart banner in Mexico and will be the team’s nominated point-scorers.  Østberg’s 2010 WRC campaign got off to a flying start earlier this month with the 23-year-old finishing second overall – the best ever result for the Stobart team in their six year history.
Østberg will contest the third round of the Norwegian Rally Championship – Rally Finnskog - in a Ford Fiesta S2000 this weekend before flying to Mexico on Sunday.  It will be a new event for Østberg but his pace could easily threaten the WRC front-runners in the high-altitude plains of Central America.
Regular team-mates Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor have been nominated as the team’s other point-scorers next week.  The Norwegian has a strong track record in Mexico – it will be Solberg’s fifth outing at the Leon-based gravel rally and he has finished inside the top five twice. Last year, Solberg finished sixth overall.
Britain’s Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin finished sixth at 2008’s Rally Mexico and 24-year-old Wilson will be looking to take advantage of the extensive testing he has undertaken in the Fiesta RS WRC on gravel so far in order to finish in a strong position.
Evgeny Novikov said:
"For obvious reasons, I am not planning to fight for a high result in Mexico and I am not planning to drive to the limit. It is a wonderful opportunity to try out the new Fiesta RS WRC and I will have a first chance to try the new car at Rally Mexico’s shakedown which I consider as an ideal place to get acquainted with the car. As for the car itself, I feel that it will be better in handling compared to the cars from the previous generations - the results that the car achieved from Sweden were very impressive. The new class is a novelty for everyone and everyone needs some time to adapt and get used to the new cars. I have never competed in Mexico, but my co-driver has recommended it to me - fast stages should suit my driving style.”
Mads Østberg said:
“Sweden was a really good event for me but I don’t think it is realistic to expect the same sort of result in Mexico.  It’s the first time there for us and it’s all about learning how the car handles on gravel at this event.  It’s very important that we have a good recce and after that, I just want to just concentrate on getting through the rally in one piece.  I’ve got absolutely no idea what to expect from the stages – I haven’t even seen any onboard footage yet so it’s a real leap into the unknown.  I’ll be content if I’m fighting in the top five at this event and if I finish in the top five or six, then I will leave a happy man.”
Henning Solberg said:
“I really enjoy this event - for sure, Mexico is a great place to go and the atmosphere of the fans is incredible. The organisers have made some changes to the itinerary this year including the Guanajuato Street Stage which looks like it will be a lot of fun. I also think it will help make the event even more exciting for both the drivers and the fans.  I’ve had some good results in Mexico in the past so hopefully I can put my accident from Sweden at the back of my mind in order to produce a strong points finish next week.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“We’re moving from a rally where the conditions helped the car run at optimum levels to one where the air is less dense because of the altitude.  This means the engine produces about 20% less power which is quite noticeable when driving - you really have to take the reduction in power into account when tackling stages. It’ll be good to get used to the new Michelin tyres on gravel over there but sometimes the stages can be really rough and there could be a risk of punctures. Like every rally I set a pace on the first stage, see where we are and then develop the speed and feeling from there.”
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