Stobarts power on to Portugal The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team are off to Rally de Portugal next week in search of the continued form that has lead them to third in the manufacturer standings after four rounds of the 2007 World ...
Stobarts power on to Portugal
The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team are off to Rally de Portugal next week in search of the continued form that has lead them to third in the manufacturer standings after four rounds of the 2007 World Rally Championship.
Norwegians Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud lead the way, fifth in the drivers' standings, while Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila lay equal eighth with six championship points. After their solid performance in Mexico, Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr snatched one point to sit 14th in the overall standings.
After a six year absence from the World Rally Championship, Rally de Portugal has returned in 2007 for the 41st running of this historical event. Based in the southern Algarve region, it will be the first time the event is run here under WRC status.
As the first gravel event on European soil, Portugal is expected to test competitors with its fast hard-packed gravel surface similar to that of Mexico and Argentina. Forecast weather conditions are set for sunshine, blue skies and average temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius.
The 357.10 kilometres of competitive route offers exceptional vantage points for spectators, with organisers setting up several camping zones, a concept created to counter the massive influx of people expected to flock to the 18 stages on offer.
Faro Airport is just eight kilometres south of Rally HQ, located at the newly constructed Algarve Stadium, making it a very convenient rally for all involved. The stadium will also play host to the 2.03 kilometre super special stage where two cars will compete together side-by-side. Tickets for both days sold out several weeks ago and around 30,000 die-hard rally fans are expected to attend.
With his day one mishaps from Mexico behind him, Solberg will be looking to attack the Portuguese roads in speedy fashion. Two points currently separate Solberg from fourth placed Spaniard, Dani Sordo, in the drivers' standings.
Celebrating his birthday the week after the rally, Latvala will continue to drive on the form which rewarded him with a creditable seventh placing in Mexico two weeks ago. The Finn is looking forward to piloting his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 on his preferred gravel surface.
Coming off a solid eighth in Mexico, Wilson will be looking to gain valuable experience miles on this newly-added rally for 2007. With a level playing field ahead, the 20-year-old will be pushing for more points on his quest to becoming one of the sport's greats.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"The car felt really good in Mexico and this was clear from my times and I don't really plan to make any major changes to the set-up. I find the gravel slightly more difficult than snow and ice but now I have a much better feeling with the car, so I'm quite confident going into the rally. Realistically, I am aiming for a top five position again. I've never done this rally before but I think the stages will be similar to what we've just experienced in Mexico. It's still only my second gravel rally in this car so I'll be looking to take things steady as well as trying to put in some good times."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
"Portugal should be really good because it is a new event just like Norway. What I want there of course is to get through the rally and get the experience. Also though, I want to fight for a place in the top six. I think it will make things easier because we start at the same level, unlike the events that have been in the championship a long time. It is then maybe not so difficult to get closer to the top guys and to fight for the better positions. Nobody has any experience of Portugal and so what matters is how you drive there. Also on day one I will have quite a good starting position so there is a chance to set good stage times."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"I'm looking forward to starting in Portugal and I think it will be a benefit coming straight from Mexico which is of similar surface. It's a good thing that not many other drivers have experience of the roads in Portugal. Some other crews may struggle making new pace-notes for stages but for us this is normal, we have had to do it on virtually every rally I have competed in. We have a test before the event which is also going to help, so I think that from the test and what we have learnt in Mexico, the car's set-up should be good going into the rally."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"Allof the team impressed me in Mexico and they now have a lot more experience of the car on gravel. Again they should be able to challenge for some more driver and manufacturer points as they are starting to get used to the car and show some speed; but again it is important to get experience of these new stages and conditions. To come out of the rally still holding onto third position in the manufacturer championship will be a bonus."