Stobart salsa to Mexico as Gringo Galli chases a gravel podium
The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team head to Corona Rally Mexico next week, for the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, second in the Manufacturer standings. This will be the first gravel
event in 2008 for the squad and the third consecutive event that a different pairing will be nominated to score points for the team.
After a sensational podium finish for Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini in Sweden earlier this month they will again be a nominated scoring crew. The second for this event will be Brits Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin who have had a very promising start to the season and are therefore rewarded with an opportunity to help the team continue with its first-rate start to the season.
Stobart regulars Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud jump ship for this event in aid of fellow M-Sport-run outfit the Munchi's Ford World Rally Team.
For Galli this will be his first event on gravel in the Stobart Focus RS WRC07 and the 35-year-old is relishing the opportunity like a raging bull. The only time he competed here was not the greatest with suspension issues forcing him to retire on stage 6 back in 2004.
Budget restrictions have prevented the Italian from competing in Mexico over the last three years but to keep a close relationship with the unique properties of this event he undertook reconnaissance in 2005 and 2006.
Twenty-one-year-old Wilson will be looking to continue on from his form in Sweden which saw him in a Sunday showdown for fifth position before throttle issues forced his retirement on the penultimate stage. Sporting the number 8 for this event it will be the youngster's first as a nominated point scoring driver for the Stobart team since Wales Rally GB back in 2006.
Rally Mexico is well known for its vibrant atmosphere and heavy spectator interest which last year saw over 60,000 gather in Guanajuato, a UNESCO world heritage listed mining town, for the ceremonial start which will again occur this year. The sweeping gravel surface is generally hard packed and smooth but stray rocks and boulders lining the roads could become a major factor this year with puncture-preventing mouse inserts banned in the WRC.
With Mexico a late inclusion in the 2008 calendar much of the route will remain unchanged from 2007. Day 1 will sport the only change where the last few kilometres of Ortega and El Cubilete stages have been re-routed for logistical reasons reducing the overall competitive mileage by ten kilometres. Rally Mexico continues as one of the most compact routes in the WRC with just 830 total kilometres, as well as being one of the most elevated at over 2000 metres above sea level.
Pirelli will introduce its brand new Scorpion gravel tyre on this event after two successful rallies with both the winter asphalt and snow tyres. It will be a tough test on a demanding rally but so far an almost puncture-less two events will be a great confidence booster for the Italian manufacturer.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
"I just really want to be in Mexico right now, I feel like a horse before a big race raring to go. I competed on this event in 2004 but only got through five stages; however we did do the recce in 2005 and 2006 which I think will help a lot. Mexico is such a wonderful place to go and the atmosphere of the fans is incredible. The people also manage the roads very well there which makes them quite enjoyable to drive on. It will be harder for me to compete at a good level having only done five competitive stages in 2004 but I don't care, it will be good to be there and get used to the new tyre. I have never used the new Pirelli tyre so this gives us the chance to discover the car and the tyre on gravel for the first time. Like every rally I set a pace on the first stage, see where we are and then develop the speed and feeling from there."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It's great to be nominated to score points for the Stobart team again. There will be a bit more pressure on me now but it's a real boost to be able to help the team after such a great start to the year. Mexico has always been quite a good rally for me and it's where I scored my first drivers' points in last year's championship. It's a bit of a shame not going into the event with any points from Sweden but we will look to get some here. The altitude makes it tough on the cars and the body so Scott and I will be doing some altitude training once we get out there to try and acclimatise a bit better. It will be the first time for me on the new Pirelli gravel tyre but so far we have had no problems on the tarmac and studded versions so I'm confident the feeling will be good in Mexico."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"The Stobart team head to Mexico sitting in a great position and with a good chance of finishing the event still in a top-three Manufacturer spot. Altitude plays a big part in this rally and it will be tough on both drivers as the temperatures are much higher than the previous two events. Gigi has shown a level head on the first two events this year and already stepped onto the podium in Sweden. It will be a tricky first gravel event for him, however, as he will have the added challenge of fighting the power deficit along with learning how the car acts on a new surface. Matthew has a great opportunity to score points for the team here and has shown a steady improvement on his speed over the first two events. Mexico will be a tough challenge for both drivers will require full concentration to help the team maintain a strong position in the championship and continue to assist the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team at the top of the Manufacturer standings."