Strong Stobart squad for Acropolis Rally
- 15th June 2011, 8:58am
With the 2011 FIA World Rally Championship season’s half-way point fast approaching, the Cumbrian-based squad is eager to continue its best season to date and is aiming for its seventh consecutive top-five result.
Greece holds the record as the WRC event with the most different winners (20), mainly due to its unforgiving roads which have been known to punish even the world’s most talented drivers.
This statistic will encourage M-Sport Stobart’s Mads Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson, who will contest next week’s Acropolis Rally of Greece with the aim of chasing the WRC front-runners. The 23-year-old driver has competed in Greece twice before and his previous experience of the stages will boost Østberg’s confidence as he aims to match the pace of the factory drivers.
Østberg is currently leading the Norwegian Rally Championship and finished runner-up at the fifth round of the NRC last weekend - the seat-time spent in the Ford Fiesta S2000 should help ensure the young Scandinavian is well prepared ahead of next week’s challenging WRC round.
With the heat set to reach in excess of 45 degrees inside the car Greece is undoubtedly one of the most physically challenging rallies in the WRC, but as two of the fittest individuals competing in the WRC Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin should be well-placed to cope with the sweltering heat.
The British duo are M-Sport Stobart’s second nominated points-scorers in Greece and Wilson will be looking to take advantage of his knowledge of the rock-strewn stages throughout the gruelling sun-beaten event. The 24-year-old’s previous best result is sixth from 2008’s event.
After choosing to skip the previous WRC round in Argentina to finalise the details of a new sponsor contract, Henning Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor will return to the M-Sport Stobart team in Greece to pilot the Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Solberg has a strong record in the land of the Gods – the Norwegian has previously finished in the top-five on two occasions and is the most experienced of the M-Sport Stobart crew, having contested the event five times before.
Also returning to the M-Sport Stobart squad next week is Russia’s Evgeny Novikov, who will be partnered by the experienced Denis Giraudet in the co-driver’s seat. Novikov has shown he is capable of setting blisteringly-quick stage times, as was proved when he was running third after the first morning in Sardinia. However, a misheard pacenote subsequently caused the driver to roll his Fiesta RS WRC and the championship’s youngest ever stage winner was forced to retire from his second WRC event this year.
Mads Østberg said:
“If you want to be in with a chance to finish on the podium in Greece then I think you must push, but the roads are incredibly rough so there’s always the risk of damaging the car. I think we’ll see how it goes on the first stage and adjust our pace to the circumstances. This year we will repeat only one of the first six stages on the Friday so the cleaning effect is going to be a very important factor in this rally. Fortunately our start position is not as bad as some of the others so we’ll see how that goes. Since Argentina, I’ve competed in the NRC in the Ford Fiesta S2000 – even though the stages are very different to what we will experience in Greece, it’s always good preparation before a WRC event – especially as I am looking to push the top five some more than I did in South America.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“Greece usually ends up as one of the hottest rallies of the year but Scott and I are aware of this and should hopefully be prepared for it. I’ve been working hard on my fitness recently as it’s something that is really important for an event which is both physically and mentally demanding on the body. There is little doubt that Greece is one of the most difficult events in the calendar, it’ll probably prove to be the most demanding rally that the Ford Fiesta RS WRC has encountered but I am certain that the car and Michelin tyres will cope. We took some really big knocks in Argentina with rocks that had been dragged onto the road and we didn’t have any major issues so hopefully this will be the case next week too.”
Henning Solberg said:
“I’m delighted to be back in the WRC after missing Argentina. For sure, it’s been a difficult start to the season but my manager and I have been working hard with the new sponsor in order to get everything pulled together for a long-term plan. I’d say we’re nearly there with everything so of course that is good news. Hopefully now I can just concentrate on driving and finish with some good results. I’m focused now on Greece and I really want to put in a strong performance for the team during the second half of the season.”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“Greece is a relatively hard event in terms of physical training as it is so hot. The stages are not easy either – there are a lot of stones and in 2009 the roads were very slippery. I don't know how many new stages there will be this year for me, but the big plus is that Friday’s stages are not repeated and our start position is good - I hope it would be an advantage for us. In 2009, Greece was the most dramatic rally I’ve competed in. I enjoyed it a lot - I was third - but I had a problem with the driveshaft so I lost my third position. I hope I have no problems on this rally and finish with a top five result.”
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