Finns Focus on top ten finish for British Rally Championship debut. Rising Finnish rally star Jari-Matti Latvala begins testing his new Ford Focus WRC in Great Britain tomorrow in preparation for the opening round of the Pirelli British Rally ...
Finns Focus on top ten finish for British Rally Championship debut.
Rising Finnish rally star Jari-Matti Latvala begins testing his new Ford Focus WRC in Great Britain tomorrow in preparation for the opening round of the Pirelli British Rally Championship this weekend.
Both Latvala and his co-driver, Welshman Carl Williamson, will spend time at M-Sport in Cumbria this week, familiarising themselves with their new World Rally Car and utilising the technical experience of their M-Sport support team in preparation for The Pirelli International Rally, which takes place in and around Gateshead on 25-26 April.
"We are both excited and relieved to be testing - firstly as it really is our first outing in the Ford Focus and we are finally able to take the 'wrapper' off it! And relieved as with only a few miles behind the wheel previously I was fairly nervous about the first few stages in Newcastle." said Latvala.
"We are hoping to complete around 100 miles tomorrow. Not only is it important for me to have the car set up and running to suit my driving style, but we will also use the time to adapt ourselves to suit the car. We will be spending as much time as possible getting to know it so that in the case of something simple like turning on the windscreen demister it will be like second nature to us," he said.
Latvala's Ford Focus RS WRC will be run for the British Championship season by M-Sport, the company which runs Ford Rallye Sport's World Rally Championship team.
"Their professionalism and experience has instilled a great confidence in our team and while we are very much the novices next weekend and results will be down to the two of us in the cockpit, we firmly believe we have the best vehicle package of any of our competitors," he said.
However, with just a few miles behind the wheel, the young man is realistic about his chances in the opening round.
"It would be nice to think we could win the rally, but with the lack of experience with the car, the Pirelli will really only be an extended test for us and we are aiming for a top ten finish. Johnny Milner is obviously very strong at the moment, as are Austin McHale, Barry Johnson, Charlie Jukes and Julian Reynolds - they are all high on my list of tough opposition - so we will be happy to set comparable times with any of them," he said.
"We were obviously disappointed not to have had the Rally of Wales to contest - everything was geared to start our year off that way and its cancellation left a bit of a hole in our calendar. I have some experience of the Sweet Lamb stages and it would have been good to kick off this year's championship in familiar surroundings for our first outing in the Ford Focus RS WRC, but that was not to be. Now in Gateshead I have to contend with stages I've never seen before - as well as doing them in the dark!"
The 18-year-old Finn will also compete as the fourth manufacturers' entry for Ford Rallye Sport in four World Rally Championship rounds this season, starting with the Acropolis Rally in June. His programme will also include World Rally Championship events in Germany, his native Finland and the Welsh Rally of Great Britain in November.
And while many would be content with this already busy rally calendar, Latvala is keen to get as much experience as possible and has also signed on to do the seven round Italian Subaru Cup, which started this month.
About the Pirelli International Rally
The Pirelli International Rally, which takes place in and around Gateshead on 25-26 April, will be the first qualifying round of the 2003 Pirelli British Rally Championship. It will run under a more compact format, and with the introduction of several exciting new features, and the organisers are confident of attracting a record number of competitors and spectators.
After the reconnaissance run on Thursday afternoon (24 April) and Friday morning, and with scrutineering at the Gateshead International Stadium also taking place during Friday, the rally will start from the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, close to Gateshead's famous Millennium Bridge, at 5.30pm on Friday.
From there the crews will complete two runs of a special spectator stage right in the city centre before tackling 35 miles of challenging stages in Kielder Forest in the dark. The next day there will be approximately 80 more daylight stage miles in Kielder before the finish in Baltic Square late on Saturday afternoon.