Life as a WRC M-Sport apprentice
M-Sport apprentice Victor Henriksson (19) from Stockholm, Sweden, took his first class victory in the Swedish Rally Championship on the Sandviken Rally in Gästrikland two weeks ago, finishing thirteenth overall.
The Swede drove 75
km in his Group N Ford Fiesta ST to finish 4.4 seconds ahead of second-placed Andreas Sjölander, also in a Fiesta ST, in the N2-2 class. Henriksson has now set the record for the youngest-ever driver to win his class in a Swedish Rally Championship event, the record previously held by Harry Källström for winning the Finspångsrundan Rally overall at the age of 20 in 1959.
Henriksson is the inaugural winner of the Fiesta Sporting Trophy (FST) International 'Shootout' held in December 2006. That event pitched the top two drivers and a 'wildcard' selected by the individual FST championship organisers from each national FST championship (of which there are now twelve worldwide) against each other. Henriksson was selected as the Swedish wildcard and competed against 22 drivers in a series of mental and physical challenges over two days.
Based at M-Sport's HQ in Cumbria, each competitor had to undertake a mental assessment developed by the Sports Department at Edinburgh University in order to identify drivers with a specific mental aptitude required to compete at the highest level of rallying.
Next was a physical assessment designed to ascertain not only their physical condition, but their determination to overcome physical challenges.
Drivers were then placed before a panel of journalists from around the world for a mock press conference, which tested their mental responsiveness and allowed judges an insight to the competitors' personalities.
Once all the data had been analysed, Malcolm Wilson, Team Principal of the BP-Ford World Rally Team and Managing Director of M-Sport, had a chance to watch each competitor in driving action at M-Sport's Greystoke test facility. The field of 23 was then narrowed down to six and each driver had a one-on-one interview with Malcolm Wilson.
The prize on offer was a 12-month contract with M-Sport to live and work at the Dovenby Hall headquarters on a driver apprenticeship. The intention of the programme is that, over the course of the year, Henriksson will get the opportunity to receive behind-the-scenes experience of how a WRC team operates.
To date, Henriksson has been to Monte Carlo, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Sardinia and Greece rallies, working with former factory co-drivers Phil Short and Howard Davies to supply Marcus Grönholm and the other BP-Ford, Stobart and Munchi's drivers with last-minute weather and road condition information. Work can be varied for Henriksson; when not travelling to events, or assisting with PR functions, he can be found working in the workshop building cars or even washing parts!
2007 is proving to be a busy year for Henriksson. He is attending 23 rallies and, alongside his M-Sport placement, he is competing in the Swedish Rally Championship and Swedish Fiesta Sporting Trophy (known as the FlexiFuel Cup).
For the Sandviken Rally, he was co-driven by Jonas Andersson, who is currently leading the FIA Junior Rally Championship with Suzuki driver P-G Andersson.
Henriksson said: "After my big crash in the South Swedish Rally, I didn't think that a win at Sandviken was possible. The main thing was just to finish the rally without any problems. I had pain in my back and neck and I was afraid to make a mistake. But, with Jonas [Andersson] as my new co-driver, everything felt much better."
"The first stage was a short stage (only 4 km) and we dropped 3.5 seconds to the fastest time on the stage. Stage 2 was longer (28 km) and, without pushing, we were only 5.8 seconds off the pace. I was regaining my confidence and we decided to try to push a little bit more. I was very nervous and when we passed the finish, I was very, very happy! Thanks to all the mechanics in Sweden who helped me, and I hope that I can keep the same speed in the future," he added.
After taking his first class victory in the Swedish Rally Championship, Henriksson returned to work at M-Sport and was given the trusted task of shaking down Henning Solberg's Ford Focus RS 06 WRC car.
"I drove the Focus WRC car in the beginning without anti-lag system just to learn how the car felt, and the car was very quick. It was my first time in a 4WD rally car. After a couple of runs, I drove with the anti-lag on and it made a huge difference. The car was very quick in responding, but very easy to drive; you don't feel the speed until you have to brake," he related.
"I really enjoyed every single minute and I can't wait until the next opportunity I get to drive the Focus," Henriksson expressed.