Stobart stars anticipate Antipodean adventure Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg are looking forward to an exciting new challenge Down Under next week as the FIA World Rally Championship moves towards its climax...
Stobart stars anticipate Antipodean adventure
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg are looking forward to an exciting new challenge Down Under next week as the FIA World Rally Championship moves towards its climax at Rally Australia. With positions in the Drivers' Championship still up for grabs, a strong points finish will be essential for the Stobart Ford Focus RS WRCs with just two rounds remaining in Spain and Great Britain after the long-haul event.
The WRC is making its hotly-anticipated return to Australia for the first time since 2006. With a new Gold Coast venue 4000kms east of its previous home in Perth, the revamped rally will provide a new challenge for all of the 44 entered crews, with a staggering 35 stages, more than any other rally this season, included on the itinerary.
The new-look event will be based around the Tweed and Kyogle Shires in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. A beach-front Service Park in the town of Kingscliff will act as the base for the teams, while the 344.72kms of competitive stages will take place on the loose gravel roads of the region producing a high-speed spectacle for the Australian fans.
The new format includes an exciting sealed-surface Super Special Stage where three cars at a time will run on the 2.55km course bringing the thrilling spectacle of night time rallying to the town of Murwillumbah on three nights of the rally. With two passes over the stage on the opening night it will be the first time that a rally has run two stages on a Thursday evening this season.
After a disappointing result due to a suspension breakage in the last round of the championship, Rally Finland, Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud will be looking to strengthen their position in the Drivers' Championship and again challenge for a podium place. The absence of Solberg's brother Petter from proceedings gives him the perfect opportunity to consolidate his fantastic fifth place in the standings which would mark his best ever season in the WRC.
Meanwhile, Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin have only failed to finish in one round of the championship so far this season in their Ford Focus RS WRC, taking top-eight finishes in seven events, and will be looking to maintain their consistent record in Australia. In his only previous outing in the rally in 2006 Wilson finished 26th. But he will be aiming considerably higher than that this time around as he chases down Petter Solberg in the drivers' standings.
The rally kicks off on Thursday night with two runs over the Kyogle Super Special Stage and a packed crowd is expected to turn out to watch on the specially designed Murwillumbah track. On Friday morning the crews head west of Service Park where they face 11 stages before returning to Murwillumbah for two more passes over the Super Special Stage taking the day's total to 106.79kms.
Saturday's 113.45km of competitive stages are based around Kyogle and the Stobart crews will again be relying upon the Pirelli Scorpion control gravel tyre to sweep the expected loose gravel from the roads.
At 124.48kms Day Three is, unusually, the longest of the rally with the action taking place west of Service Park around the town of Bonalbo. The final day includes a remote service and two passes over the longest stage of the rally, the 21.52km Castrol Edge West before the official live televised finish in Kingscliff.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team news since Rally Finland
Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud embarked on a roadshow with sponsors Expert, meeting competition winners and taking part in store promotions throughout Norway while continuing to work on their fitness in preparation for Rally Australia.
Having spent the run-up to Rally Finland taking part in an arduous cycling ride in the French Alps, Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin have used the break between rallies to recharge their batteries in preparation for what is set to be a thrilling climax to the season.
Both crews will make a stop in Sydney, before heading north to the Gold Coast, where they will take part in some tourist activities planned by the rally organisers including a visit to the Sydney Opera House, a jet boat tour of the harbour and a beach volleyball tournament against some of the lifeguards on Bondi Beach.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It's a completely new rally so it's going to be really exciting but with 35 stages it's going to be a pretty challenging weekend for us. We haven't seen a rally with that many stages for a while so it's definitely going to be different. I have done Rally Australia before, but it will be a new experience for Scott [Martin] and being in a new venue it will be a great challenge for us both as a team. From what we have heard that are some great, flowing stages, with wide, fast roads so I'm really looking forward to seeing them on the recce."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"I really enjoy the fast gravel rallies and from competing in Australia before I know that I enjoy it there. I had an accident there last time so I really don't want a repeat of that. I hope that I can achieve another top-five finish as, with Petter not competing in Australia, that would help my position in the drivers' standings; so I need to make the most of his absence and score good points. I have had a lot of bad luck recently, and I know that anything can happen, but I hope that it is my turn to have some good luck."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"The long haul events always provide an extra buzz for the drivers and teams and it will be fantastic to be back competing in Australia after a two-year break. I'm expecting it to be a real challenge for the Stobart crews but both Matthew and Henning have gone well on new events this year with Henning collecting a podium on the new round in Poland. With the championship battle hotting up, securing a strong points haul from this rally will be more important than ever."