Wales Rally GB – Stobart preview
- 27th November 2006, 10:53am
Cumbrian world rally sensation Matthew Wilson arrives back in Britain after a whirlwind 11 months, taking in 15 countries and 15 rallies on five continents, as the most successful 19-year-old driver ever to compete in the World Rally Championship.
Despite only just being out of school, Wilson signed up to drive for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team in this year’s World Rally Championship – and made an immediate impression. Despite a fearsome reputation in the sport, Wilson made his name on Rally Argentina earlier this season. The son of former British Rally Champion, Malcolm, rocked the establishment in South America, where he became the youngest driver ever to set a fastest time on a world championship stage – and the youngest driver ever to clinch a WRC point.
In Wales next week, Wilson will once again be the standard-bearer for a country with a proud heritage in one of the world’s fastest and most exhilarating sports of all – rallying. Wilson has been Britain’s only full-time competitor in this year’s WRC, so the pressure of an expectant nation is nothing new to him. His ability to challenge the frontrunners on next week’s South Wales forest stages has already been hit hard, however.
Courtesy of a minor indiscretion, while carrying out his pre-event reconnaissance earlier in the year, Wilson starts this 16th and final rally of the season – and the biggest in his career to date – with a one-minute penalty. That penalty has seriously limited his chances of a repeat of the kind of glory he saw in Argentina. Despite that, Wilson will, once again, put his back into the battle, pitting himself against the fastest – and most skillful drivers – anywhere on the globe. That he’s only been driving for just over two years means nothing to Wilson, nor does the fact that the man most likely to win the rally, Marcus Gronholm, is twice his age and has a frightening amount of experience when compared with Wilson’s two-year curriculum vitae.
Joining Wilson in the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team is Jari-Matti Latvala from Finland. With Wilson aged 19 and Latvala 21, this team really represents the sport’s future. There’s going to be a fascinating battle between the two team-mates, both of whom have already won at the highest level in Britain, but Latvala certainly edges Wilson in terms of experience. The fast Finn arrives on the back of two Production World Rally Championship wins in Australia and New Zealand, so his confidence will be high.
Backing up the world rally team’s efforts will be the British crew of Barry Clark and Scott Martin. Competing in the Fiesta Sporting Trophy International and the Junior World Rally Championship, the pair in their Stobart VK Fiesta ST are challenging for the JWRC Rookie award and need a win to secure this impressive title.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team driver Matthew Wilson said:
“I’m really looking forward to this one! Having travelled around the world for the past year, it’s great to be coming home for the biggest rally in Britain. As you might expect, Rally GB is the event where I have the most experience, which will help me. The one thing which is likely to be different is the weather. Every time I’ve done it before it’s been in September. Okay, we’ve had some rain during those events, but nothing like the conditions we could experience next week. There could be anything: rain, snow, ice, anything, but that’s all part of the challenge. Competing in the world championship means everything to me, but coming home is always going to be just that bit special.
“Obviously I am disappointed about the penalty, but it’s there, there’s nothing we can do about it. I have to just get on and drive. It does make getting a good, strong finish very difficult, but I can’t think about that. I’ve driven the 2006 Focus three times now, and each time I drive it, I just can’t help grinning that bit more – it’s an amazing thing to drive and driving it at home in front of people who have watched WRC on the television all year is mega!”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
“I am definitely looking forward to Rally GB. For me it will be the first time in the 2006 car, I have done three asphalt events with Stobart and it’s been a great car, but now it will be even better. I have a good feeling with the stages in Wales and have a good setup, this will help. My best result was in 2003, but last year I had some problems. Despite those, we set a sixth fastest time on three stages. Last year was good experience and will help me a lot with my confidence for this year.
“I liked Wales when it was dry last year, but I think now it will be wet and muddy, but it helps now that I have been driving my last rally in New Zealand as the conditions were very similar to what it will be like in Wales. It’s also encouraging that we have won the last two Production rounds, it gives me a good feeling going to GB, I hope that I can keep the same speed. I hope I am a more clever driver now than earlier in the year. I made mistakes with the previous events, but I have definitely learnt a lot from them.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“This is the event Matthew has been looking forward to for some time. It’s great for him to come home and compete on an event where he has been before. It remains a really important event for him, though. Yes, he has been here before, but equally he has to remember that he needs experience of the rally, particularly as this will be the first time he’s done it in a winter date. Having said all of that, it is great for him to be back home, like it is for all of us – particularly Ford, coming home from New Zealand as world champions. As for Jari-Matti [Latvala], he’s shown pace on previous events, so he should be looking for good times in Britain as well.”
Wales Rally Great Britain
This is one of the greats. Rally Great Britain, or the RAC Rally as it was formerly known, is up there with the likes of the Monte Carlo and Safari Rally as an event drivers want to win. Like many current World Rally Championship rallies, GB has evolved a great deal in recent years. Current regulations mean the genuine rally of Great Britain ethos, which burned so bright earlier in the event’s history, has changed radically; it is now based entirely in South Wales. The start and finish is at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, but once under way, the competition moves out to Swansea and the forests in the surrounding Vale of Neath.
The roads used on Rally Great Britain are enormously challenging. They’re fast, technical and ever-changing, depending on the vagaries of the weather. One of the things which adds to Rally Great Britain, however, is the history. This is an event whose history dates way back before the start of the World Rally Championship – and it’s an event which has been won by all of the greats. British drivers were a ruling force on these roads between 1994 and 2000 when Colin McRae and Richard Burns were the fastest of the fast in their own backyard.
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