STOBART SET FOR SWEDISH DEBUT
M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team will debut a new car and a new team member on next week's Rally Sweden, curtain-raiser to the 2011 FIA World Rally Championship.
The Cumbrian-based squad return to the WRC for the sixth consecutive year with the all-new Fiesta RS World Rally Car.
The new car -- which replaces the championship-winning Ford Focus RS WRC -- is derived from the best-selling Fiesta road car and is based on the Ford Fiesta S2000, which won the legendary Rally Monte-Carlo in January 2010 and the inaugural Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) in 2010.
The team welcome Norwegian driver Mads Шstberg to the team. The 23-year-old driver -- partnered by experienced Swedish co-driver Jonas Andersson - has already contested two rounds of this year's Norwegian Rally Championship in a Fiesta S2000 and the pair have finished first in class on both events.
The Scandinavian pairing will be feeling extra confident as they use their recent driving experience in the NRC to master the winter weather and help assist the M-Sport Stobart Ford crew with a flying start to the new season.
Regular team-mates Henning Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor will return to the M-Sport Stobart Ford team for the sixth consecutive year. This will be Solberg's thirteenth outing at Rally Sweden and the Norwegian driver will be hoping that his experience competing in the Ford Fiesta S2000 in 2010 will make for a smoother transition to the Fiesta RS WRC. Solberg will test the new car for the first time on Monday.
Britain's Matthew Wilson will be the third M-Sport Stobart driver in Sweden. The 24-year-old returns to drive alongside long-term co-driver Scott Martin for his sixth year but the Cumbrian pair will not be nominated point-scorers for this event.
Wilson has tested the Fiesta RS WRC extensively over the past few months and is hoping that his knowledge of the car will allow him to improve on his seventh place finish from last year's event.
All M-Sport Stobart crews will test the Fiesta RS WRC over the weekend and the specially-developed Michelin tyre which feature nearly 400 tungsten-tipped metal studs will assist in giving the crews maximum traction in the sub-zero conditions.
Mads Шstberg said:
"I am really looking forward to Sweden, I've got to know the Ford Fiesta S2000 well on the two first Norwegian Rally Championship rounds and I really enjoy driving the car on snow. It has taken me a while to get used to not having a 300-litre trunk behind the rear wheels but now I feel very confident with the car. Even though I have got to know the Fiesta S2000, I think the Ford Fiesta RS WRC will be almost the same but only with more power. Sweden is one of my favourite rallies with fast and flowing roads and I believe we can make a good show at our home event."
Henning Solberg said:
"Snow is where I feel most comfortable in a rally car so Sweden is a perfect event for me to start in the new Fiesta RS WRC. I really enjoyed driving the Fiesta S2000 last year and I have a good feeling that everything will work just as nicely with the new car. For sure, the Fiesta S2000 helped my confidence and given me a lot of good experience. I'm really looking forward to testing the new car on Monday, I think it'll be a lot of fun to drive and it's good that Ilka [Minor] is back with me for the new season."
Matthew Wilson said:
"We're starting the championship with one of the quickest rallies of the year so the challenge will be to get up to speed straight away on the first day. Of course that is going to be very difficult as we are contesting with a totally new car but I've been lucky enough to do a lot of testing in the Fiesta RS WRC which should definitely help. The new car has got all the best parts of the old Focus RS WRC but in a smaller chassis and it's very reactive - the car does everything you'd want it to do. Sweden is definitely one of my more favoured events because of the incredible high speeds but this year is going to be a leap into the unknown for everyone - I don't think any amount of testing could fully prepare us for what's in store next week."
Rally Sweden is the only winter event in the FIA World Rally Championship where the M-Sport Stobart Ford crews face frozen road surfaces, drifting snows and temperatures which can plummet to as low as -- 30 degrees Celsius.
Starting and finishing in Karlstad, with the main service park in Hagfors, this year's Rally Sweden will take in 351 kilometres of competitive stage distance and Karlstad trotting track will once again play host to a 1.9 km opening Super Special stage on Thursday 10 February.
The crews will face a tough opening day on Friday as they tackle seven stages of 129.34 kms including the longest stage of the rally, the 24.63 km Vargеsen test (SS2 and SS5) which includes "Colin's Crest," the famous jump named in honour of rally legend Colin McRae. Likenas (SS3 and SS6) is the most northern stage over the three-day event and Lшvhaugen (SS4 and SS7) is a brand new stage which runs partly into Norway but start and finish in Sweden.
The second day features nine stages covering 127.50 km where the M-Sport Stobart Ford crews will cross over into Dalarna and will include the arena stage running down the ski slope at Hagfors. The day will conclude with another run round the 1.9 km Super Special in Karlstad.
The final day comprises of six stages covering 92.26 km in the Hagfors region before returning to Karlstad for the finish. Sunday's leg is the shortest but it also features a new stage - the 4.16 km Gustavsfors (SS18 and SS22) which will be broadcast live on Swedish TV.