SWRC: Rally France: M-Sport preview

Pressure mounts as Fiesta S2000 prepares for S-WRC title fight The winner of the 2010 Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) could be determined next week as the ten-round series moves to France for the penultimate event. After...

Pressure mounts as Fiesta S2000 prepares for S-WRC title fight

The winner of the 2010 Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) could be determined next week as the ten-round series moves to France for the penultimate event.

After dropping the previous round in Japan, Xevi Pons will rejoin the championship in France to lead the S-WRC alongside fellow Ford Fiesta S2000 driver and title rival Martin Prokop. Unlike Pons, Prokop has only one S-WRC round remaining to contest this season and the Czech driver will be aiming to clinch a victory next week in a bid to win the championship.

However, should Pons secure a points finish at Rallye de France the Spanish driver will be odds-on to win the championship and Prokop's title hopes could be over.

The Ford Fiesta S2000 has claimed podium finishes in seven of the eight rounds of the S-WRC so far, and M-Sport's new generation rally car now occupies the top three spots in the overall S-WRC standings.

Eight Ford Fiesta S2000 crews will travel to France, with four fighting for S-WRC honours, and with just 13 points separating the top three drivers and only two S-WRC rounds remaining Rallye de France is likely to prove pivotal for the championship's front-runners.

Xevi Pons got off to a flying start in 2010, taking the S-WRC victory at Mexico and Jordan. The Spanish driver has continued to produce strong performances and maintain his position at the top of the leaderboard. With two S-WRC rounds remaining on his schedule Pons holds a clear advantage over Prokop, who has only one round to contest from his nominated seven events. However, with very few points separating the top four drivers, the Spaniard cannot afford to rest on his laurels and will be aiming for a podium finish at the very least.

Martin Prokop is the only competitor to have racked up five podium finishes in the S-WRC, and his strong performance in Japan placed the Czech driver on equal points with Pons at the head of the S-WRC standings. However, with only one round remaining for Prokop he must aim for victory to be in with a chance of winning the championship.

A polished performance from Jari Ketomaa at Rally Japan gave the Finn his third consecutive S-WRC victory, plus an overall WRC top ten finish, and promoted the driver to third in the series - only 13 points shy of the leaders. The Finn is now handily placed in the overall standings to steal the lead from the S-WRC front-runners should they falter, and Ketomaa will be looking for a podium finish in France to maintain his hopes of winning the championship.

Bernardo Sousa had a troubled time at the previous round in Japan, where he failed to complete the rally. However, Sousa will be looking to take advantage of his previous experience driving the Ford Fiesta S2000 on Tarmac at Rali Vinho Madeira and Rallye Deutschland in order to finish inside the top five and perhaps even top his fourth place on home soil at Rally de Portugal in May, which remains the Portuguese driver's best performance in the S-WRC to date.

Henning Solberg will return to the wheel of a Ford Fiesta S2000 after first driving the car competitively at Rally Bulgaria in July. The Norwegian produced a first place finish in the Group N category whilst also gaining valuable experience of the car on asphalt. Solberg again drove the Fiesta S2000 on Tarmac at Rallye Deutschland, but was forced to SupeRally on the opening day due to transmission problems. The Norwegian WRC veteran will be looking to use all of his top level experience to challenge the other seven Ford Fiesta S2000 crews next week.

M-Sport entry Dennis Kuipers is another looking to build on his previous S-WRC performances at Rally de France. The 24-year-old Dutch driver gained valuable experience driving the Fiesta S2000 on asphalt at Rally Bulgaria and Rallye Deutschland. While he is not registered to score points in the S-WRC, Kuipers is keen to further develop his understanding of the new generation rally car and will be looking for a clear run at this event.

Mads Østberg will contest Rallye de France in a Ford Fiesta S2000 next week and although not registered to score S-WRC points the 22-year-old made an impressive debut in the car at Germany, despite losing time on the first day due to an off-road excursion. Østberg finished his first rally in the Fiesta S2000 sixteenth overall and will be looking to improve on this result when he returns to the WRC next week.

Rallye de France will be Julien Maurin's second outing piloting a Ford Fiesta S2000 in the WRC this year. The Frenchman had an unfortunate debut in the new generation rally car at Vodafone Rally de Portugal in May when he had to retire during the second day after his alternator belt broke. However, Maurin is the only competitor out of the eight Fiesta S2000 crews to compete on home soil so the Frenchman will be pushing hard for a strong result in his home country.

Xevi Pons said:

"I've only been away from the championship for one round but it has got very, very tight at the top. This is going to be an extremely important rally and I will be pushing from the beginning. I didn't have the best experience on Tarmac in Germany last month, I really struggled to find the right rhythm, so I'm hoping this will not happen again. I'll be testing the car on Monday in France and want to ensure that I am as well prepared as possible for next weekend."

Martin Prokop said:

"Rallye de France will be a key event for us, we need a win and 25 points to be in with a chance of finishing the season at the top of the championship. We've watched a few videos on the internet to get an impression about the character of the rally and it looks like it'll be a fast event. As we saw on Rally Germany the Skodas were very quick, but we have had a good test and I hope that we will be well prepared now. I plan to push from the beginning and give this rally my best shot."

Jari Ketomaa said:

"I need to do my best at this rally and I have to say that I'm feeling confident right now. The car has been working very well recently and I'm really happy with the set-up, so I have high hopes that I could win in France. The stages will be quite fast but it'll be a challenge and that's something that I'm not afraid of especially because I'm feeling good about the car right now."

Bernardo Sousa said:

"I've driven the Ford Fiesta S2000 on Tarmac on two rallies recently so I'm hoping this will give me an advantage over some of the other drivers who are not so familiar with the road surface, but it is a new rally for everyone so we all start with the same knowledge which will makes things very fair. I think I will enjoy the stages and I really want to fight for the top three. I was disappointed in Japan not to finish third so that is my main aim for this event -- to fight for the podium."

Henning Solberg said:

"I really enjoyed driving the [Ford Fiesta] S2000 in Bulgaria, the car handled very well and drives nicely on Tarmac. Germany did not go so well for me, I had a few problems but when everything was running smoothly and I felt comfortable with the car I had some fast times. For sure, this will be a difficult event for everyone as the stages are new but I just want to get more experience of the car and hope for a good end result."

Dennis Kuipers said:

"For me, Rallye de France is a new rally and I think it will also be a tough event. The stages look similar to Germany but this time they will be a lot faster. We've now done two rallies on Tarmac in this car, Bulgaria and Germany, and we had a very good result in Bulgaria which I want to repeat in France next week. I'm looking forward to this rally and we want to finish in a high position, but the main aim is to gain more experience."

Mads Østberg said:

"This is only the second time I have rallied a Ford Fiesta S2000 but I think the event looks a lot like Germany. We had a good event there and I think if we can continue our speed for this event then we could get a good result. There's going to be more competition compared to Germany with some very good drivers, it's going to be tough but I'm aiming for a podium finish and I think that we can achieve this."

Julien Maurin said:

"I'm looking forward to competing in my home country and hope to have better luck compared to my last experience driving the [Ford] Fiesta S2000 in Portugal. I was very disappointed to retire because I was enjoying myself and was pleased with my set-up. I've heard that the stages are very varied at this rally and I think that having the right set-up will be crucial from the beginning. I also hope that the weather remains dry, if it's wet it could make things very difficult, but we will see how things go."

-source: m-sport

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Henning Solberg , Martin Prokop , Bernardo Sousa , Jari Ketomaa , Dennis Kuipers , Julien Maurin
Teams M-Sport