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Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg are getting ready to take on the WRC’s first asphalt event since February as they travel to Salou for the Rally de España, the penultimate round of this year’s championship.  The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers are both on course to complete their best ever season in the championship and will be looking to set up a thrilling climax to the season with a strong result in Catalunya.
The town of Salou on Spain’s Costa Daurada plays host to the event again with Service Park for the rally housed in the town’s PortAventura theme park resort.  While the route for the rally remains identical to last year, with few Tarmac challenges on the WRC calendar this year, it still provides an extra-challenging event for the 80 crews entered.
The fast, sweeping roads of the Tarragona region, south-west of Barcelona, play host to 353.62kms of stages.  The twisty route and technical sections have been known to catch out even the best crews as big cuts on the corners spray gravel and dirt across the hard surface making the road slippery.  Rain in the unpredictable autumn conditions can also be a concern for the drivers as they look for grip on the sealed-surface roads.  Crews will be using the Pirelli PZero asphalt control tyre which will be made available in two compounds in case of changing weather conditions.
Since returning from Rally Australia, where he produced yet another solid points-scoring performance, Matthew Wilson has continued to work hard on his fitness in preparation for the final two events of the season.  He has also teamed up with renowned driver coach Rob Wilson to help his final preparations for the first Tarmac event since Rally Ireland in February.
The young Brit and co-driver Scott Martin finished ninth overall on last year’s edition of the rally and will be looking to build on that performance using their Ford Focus RS WRC and ensure a strong platform to take into their home rally in Wales later in October.
Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud, meanwhile, had their hopes of another top-five finish in Australia dashed as they slid off the road on Day Two.  He currently occupies fifth in the drivers’ standings and holds a narrow lead over his brother Petter, who will be aiming to finish as high as possible in Spain.
Solberg is closing in on his best ever points tally for a WRC season giving him an extra incentive to chase down a strong finish in Spain where he has never finished inside the top ten.
The rally begins on Thursday night with the Ceremonial Start on the seafront in Salou.  As one of the most popular rallies on the calendar for spectators the event is sure to draw the crowds. The real action begins on Friday morning with two passes over a three-stage loop to the north and east of Salou. With each stage on the winding inland roads totalling over 20kms, Day One is the longest of the rally.
Day Two takes the crews north-west of Salou to the wine-producing region of Montsant, where they will face two passes over the longest test of the rally, the epic 38.27km El Pirorat/La Ribera d’Ebre, the opening challenge of another three-stage loop.
At just 93.88kms, Sunday is the shortest day of the event concluding with a sprint over the 4.11km final stage of the rally SS18 La Serra d’Almos.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team news since Rally Australia
Henning Solberg has been busy since his return from Australia fulfilling sponsor commitments and taking part in rallycross races in Sweden.  Meanwhile co-driver Cato Menkerud conquered the Berlin Marathon completing the course in an impressive 4 hours 15 minutes.
Matthew Wilson made an appearance with father Malcolm at the annual Rallyday event at Castle Combe in the UK and he and Scott Martin will take part in a pre-rally test in Spain on Monday.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It’s going to be quite interesting doing a full Tarmac rally after so long away rallying on gravel.  Unusually the rally is completely identical to last year which is great because it will really allow us to measure our progress since then.  It also means that we’ll be able to use the recce to really perfect our pacenotes.  We’ve had a bit of Tarmac tuition in preparation for it so I’m really looking forward to getting out there.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I always find driving on Tarmac a big challenge and usually I start off slow but make really good progress over the weekend.  This rally will be difficult as the last time we were on Tarmac was the very first round in Ireland – and it was very wet.  But I’m focused on putting in a strong performance and collecting more championship points.  I think it’s good for me that we use the same stages as last year, for sure it will help to make our pacenotes more accurate on the recce.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Rally de España is always a challenging event for the drivers, but even more so this year when we have had so few Tarmac rallies on the calendar.  It provides an excellent opportunity for Matthew to measure his progress since last year with the route remaining unchanged.  He is focused on producing another consistent performance to finish in the points.  It has been an excellent season for the Stobart team so far and both Matthew and Henning are committed to producing a strong finish to the season over the next two events.”
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