Sardinia the setting for another Stobart showcase
The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team look to attack on the sun-drenched Mediterranean island of Sardinia next week, coming off a high on Rally Argentina where they regained third spot on the Manufacturers' table. Rally d'Italia Sardegna is the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship and the fourth on gravel for the three-strong 2007 Stobart-backed outfit.
Norwegian driver Henning Solberg, with co-driver Cato Menkerud, is currently sixth in the drivers' standings while Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila move up two spots, to equal seventh, after their impressive fourth overall finish in Argentina last weekend.
This year sees a record number of event entries when 85 crews tackle the 342.86 kilometres of special stage distance next week. Comprising 18 competitive tests, over 50 percent of Rally d'Italia Sardegna will use completely different roads to previous years.
Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean, plays host to Italy's round of the championship for the third successive year and competitors will face the challenge of sandy, narrow stages littered with rocks just inches from the ultimate racing line. This year organisers have made some of the roads wider in an endeavour to speed up the tempo of this event.
Porto Cervo, an ultra-exclusive marina resort in the heart of the island's tourist orientated north-west, will welcome the drivers during the Ceremonial Start on Thursday and also for those lucky enough to complete the event's speed tests and make it to the finish on Sunday afternoon. Leg 1 takes place in the southern Nuoro County, with the second in the inland Gallura Region and the northern Province of Olbia-Tempio. The final leg is made up of six stages around Tempio Pausania.
Solberg will be looking to continue his form from Argentina which saw him move from ninth position to fifth, in a close battle with fourth, on the closing day. The 34-year-old showed phenomenal pace here last year climbing as high as third until an accident midway through the rally forced him into retirement from the event.
Finnish driver Latvala is now on the upward path and will be looking to show speed on a very familiar surface to him. In 2003, at the age of 18, he competed in all seven rounds of the Italian Subaru Cup gaining valuable experience on the numerous Italian surfaces. The 21-year-old will be looking to put his experience into practice and keep the run alive which has seen him score points in the last four consecutive World Championship events. Taking Group N honours here in 2005, by a considerable margin, will also greatly aid his attack next weekend.
Brits Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr once again pilot the third Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 and are looking to gain maximum mileage out of this event. The pair showed improved pace on the opening stage in Argentina until an electrical fault brought an early halt to their campaign. Wilson and Orr have been working diligently on their pacenotes, with some help from former World Champion co-driver Robert Reid, in search for that extra speed gained from precise noting.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"I have a much better feeling with the car after Argentina and I am really looking forward to Sardinia because of this. My driving style is different to the other drivers and I have to set my car up differently to suit this. I was going really well in Sardinia last year and was challenging the top drivers and I hope to do the same this year. The only problem is that most of the Manufacturer Teams have been testing on the island and so have a feeling for the roads there already; I am at a small disadvantage before I start! It is a tough rally but my car is strong and I have more confidence with it now."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
"I have quite a bit of experience from Sardinia so I may be able to push slightly more than in Argentina, but I still know that the most important thing from the rally is to get the experience and try to claim some more points. I am also looking forward to being able to gain more experience on slower, twisty roads and to try and improve my driving on this type of stage. I have now a better felling with the car and am more confident, I know our car is fast and reliable and if I can make a similar drive as in Argentina then I think it will be possible to finish on points again."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"Argentina was very frustrating for me, it was an event that I enjoyed from last year and I really wanted to have a go there; but unfortunately we just didn't get many stages completed. There were some positives from the event and I think it's important that we take these to Sardinia and concentrate on working on them during the event. The stages are quite difficult and we had many problems there last year but I'm really keen to start the event. I know my pacenotes have improved over the last couple of rallies and in Argentina they felt very good; I just want to build upon these improvements in Sardinia."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"It is obvious that all of the drivers are becoming more confident with their cars and have a better feeling with them. With both Henning and Jari-Matti finishing in the top five in Argentina, its shows they are becoming more comfortable and are learning a lot as the year goes on. Sardinia is a tough event but the Focus is a strong and reliable rally car. Matthew missed out on crucial mileage in Argentina but he is very positive in looking forward to this event. Argentina was a strong team performance as we were able to move into third place in the Manufacturers' Championship and if we can repeat that performance in Sardinia, it will be an excellent result."
Date: 18-20 May 2007
Round: 7 of 16 World Rally Championship
Based: Olbia, Sardinia
Stage surfaces: Gravel
Total distance: 1061.84km
Stage distance: 342.86km
Number of stages: 18
Number of different stage venues: 9
Longest stage: 29.31km (stages 8+11)
Highest elevation on stage: 1020 metres (on stages 8+11)
-credit: stobart motorsport