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Britain’s leading World Rally Championship driver, 19-year-old Matthew Wilson, will continue his high-speed education of the most challenging roads on the globe with next week’s Telstra Rally Australia.

Wilson has hit the headlines this season, with a string of consistent finishes in his Ford Focus RS WRC, backed by British transport giant Stobart. The Cumbrian is in the first season of his multi-year deal to drive for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team, and this year is all about him and co-driver Michael Orr gaining as much WRC experience as possible.

Wilson has demonstrated the extraordinary pace and sure-footedness usually only found in a driver who’s been on the stages a decade or more. Wilson has been competing for just over two years.

As has been the case with all-but one of this year’s WRC rounds (Rally Great Britain), this will be Wilson’s debut in Australia. The highlight of his season, to date, was when he re-wrote the record books in Argentina, becoming the youngest driver ever to score a WRC point, by clinching eighth overall, and becoming the youngest driver ever to score a fastest time on a WRC stage. He set that fastest time in order to beat his team-mate Luis Perez Companc in his own backyard. Companc is back for next week’s Rally Australia, where the two will renew the kind of fierce, but friendly rivalry they have enjoyed this season. Both drivers will tackle the Antipodean event in the latest-specification Ford Focus RS WRC 06s.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Matthew Wilson said:

“This is a rally everybody knows about. And the thing they all seem to know about is the road surface. It’s among the hardest to drive in the championship, particularly if you’re first on the road. The trouble with being first on the road is that there are no braking marks from anyone ahead of you. If there’s a particularly tricky corner, maybe one which tightens up a bit more than expected, then you’re going to be the one to find it. So, okay, we know about that and I’m going to have to go that bit harder on leg one to try and avoid being first on Saturday and Sunday. As for the car, I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of the Focus RS WRC 06. It’s a sensational rally car, just amazing. The only thing which isn’t ideal is the shakedown stage – it’s at Gloucester Park this year, which is a trotting track and absolutely nothing like the stages we’ll encounter for the rest of the event.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Luis Perez Companc said:

“This is going to be all new to me, I’ve never done Rally Australia before. I have seen pictures of the stages, so I understand a little bit about what to expect – but not too much. The one thing I do know a little bit about this week, is the car. I drove the Focus RS WRC 06 for the first time on Rally Japan at the start of September and absolutely loved it. The old Focus really wasn’t a bad car, but the new one is better. It gives you so much confidence and power from the drivers’ seat.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:

“We’ve all seen in the past just what a tough event Australia can be – this year will be no different. Coming in the southern hemisphere’s summer, I would expect it to be hot, which will make the road surface even more tricky. It’s good to have Matthew and Luis back in the 2006 cars – as [BP Ford World Rally Team driver] Marcus Gronholm’s win on last week’s Rally of Turkey showed, the Focus RS WRC 06 is an amazing machine.”

Telstra Rally Australia

The World Rally Championship has been visiting Perth for Australia’s round of the FIA series since 1989, with the exception of 1994 – when it only qualified for the Two-Wheel Drive Cup. This will be the final time the event is based in Perth. It is not expected to run next season, returning in 2008, when it will be in Brisbane.

The rally is always one of the most popular on the calendar, with the beaches of Perth and Fremantle providing an entertaining distraction from the motorsport on offer. The event itself has provided some of the sport’s talking points in the last two decades. The ball bearing-nature of the gravel roads in Western Australia makes this one of the most demanding and difficult of the season. That necessity for pin-point precision is exacerbated by the closeness of the Gum trees lining the roads.

Rally Australia has also produced some of the WRC’s finest battles ever, with Colin McRae beating Tommi Makinen by six seconds in 1997. Three years on and Marcus Gronholm edged Richard Burns out of the number one spot by just two seconds. The event has always been viewed as one of the sport’s most forward-thinking, with Rally Australia among the original architects of the city-based superspecial. The Langley Park test, which ran alongside the Swan River – five minutes from the centre of Perth, was one of the most successful stages of its kind.

LEADING ENTRIES

1 Xevi Pons/Carlos del Barrio (Citroen Xsara WRC)

2 Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Citroen Xsara WRC)

3 Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen (Ford Focus RS WRC 06)

4 Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Focus RS WRC 06)

5 Petter Solberg/Phil Mills (Subaru Impreza WRC 2006)

6 Chris Atkinson/Glen Macneall (Subaru Impreza WRC 2006)

7 Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (Peugeot 307 WRC)

8 Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud (Peugeot 307 WRC)

9 Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr (Ford Focus RS WRC 06)

10 Luis Perez Companc/Jose Maria Volta (Ford Focus RS WRC 06)

FACTS AND FIGURES

Date: October 26-29

Round: 14 of 16

Based: Perth

Surface: Gravel

Total distance: 1334.41km

Number of stages: 26

Number of different stage venues: 6

Stage distance: 348.51km

Stage surfaces: loose gravel

Longest stage: 29.93km (stages 22 and 25 Helena North)

Highest elevation on stage: 346 metres (on stages 13 and 16 Bannister Central)

Permanent Service Park: Langley Park, Perth

Superspecial: Gloucester Park, Perth City Super (SS1/2) Thursday October 26

Leg one: Friday October 27. The cars leave Perth at 0715, tackling 9 stages and 124.83km.

Leg two: Saturday October 28. The cars leave Perth at 0600, tackling 9 stages and 120.36km.

Leg three: Sunday October 29. The cars leave Perth at 0600, tackling 6 stages and 103.32km. The event finishes in Perth at 1430.
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