Poland - Stobart M-Sport Ford - Preview
Stobart M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg take a step into the unknown next week as they aim to rise to the challenge of the newest rally on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar, Rally Poland.
there will be one Stobart driver familiar with the rally, as three-time Rally Poland champion Krzysztof Holowczyc joins the team for this event.
Based around the popular tourist town of Mikolajki in the north-east of the country, the drivers and their Ford Focus RS WRCs will take on 352kms over 18 stages around the Mazurian Lake District and forests of the region.
Average speeds are expected to be higher than anything seen so far this season with hard, wide roads featuring prominently. But the drivers will also come up against narrow, sandy roads lined by hedgerows.
With the Acropolis Rally of Greece still fresh in their minds, Wilson and Solberg will be looking to reproduce the form that saw them each take a stage victory on the final day of that rally. But with Rally Poland appearing on the schedule for the first time since 1973, when only three crews were classified as finishers, it will be an unknown quantity for all of the drivers.
Despite its absence from the WRC in recent years, Rally Poland is one of the oldest rallies in the world, second only to Monte Carlo, and will celebrate its 66th edition this week. The 55 crews entered are sure to receive a warm welcome from the tens of thousands of local fans who are expected to flood Mikolajki for the rally.
Many of them will be there to cheer on Polish motorsport hero Holowczyc, one of the most famous drivers in the country. Now a Member of the European Parliament, sitting on the Committee on Transport and Tourism, Holowczyc remains a high-profile personality in his home nation.
He last won Rally Poland in 2005 and has a career-best finish of seventh in a WRC event which he achieved in Argentina in 1998. That result remains the best ever by a Polish driver in the history of the World Rally Championship.
Wilson will benefit from the experience of co-driver Scott Martin who competed on the event in 2007 with Barry Clark. Having posted top-six times on 10 of the 12 stages that he contested in Greece, Wilson will be looking to put in another strong performance next weekend.
Solberg struggled with the set-up of his car during the Acropolis Rally and had his podium challenge ruined on Day Two when he hit a rock and damaged the suspension of his car. But the Norwegian and co-driver Cato Menkerud have been working hard on perfecting the set-up of the car with their engineer and are hoping to make a strong start to the rally.
The rally kicks off on Thursday night with a ceremonial start in the host town followed by a 2.5km Super Special Stage on a newly-built track next to the Service Park. On Day One the stages head along the north coast of Sniardwy Lake taking in long stretches of forest roads to the north and east of the Service Park. The day includes two passes over the 33.
17km Paprotik, the longest stage of the rally.
Day Two will see the drivers cover the terrain around many of the 45 lakes of the Mazuria region, while Day Three's action will move closer to the Service Park before finishing with a final Super Special Stage.
"I think that Rally Poland is going to be a big challenge but I am really looking forward to it. It is going to be quite tough. There will be some fast stages like in Finland but also some quite narrow and technical stages. It is great that Scott has done it before and he knows what to expect; that should be a big help to us. The last day of the Acropolis Rally went really well so we are feeling confident going into this rally. We have got a test on Monday so that will give us plenty of opportunity to perfect the set-up."
"I'm looking forward to Poland and I enjoy the challenge of a new event. As we saw in Greece, events with new stages can mix up the results and it puts the non factory drivers on a more level ground. I think the stages will have a bit of everything so the secret will be adapting to these new conditions as soon as possible and making an accurate set of pacenotes on the recce. I've been unlucky with a few events this year so hopefully that will stop now and we can concentrate on the next gravel events."
"For us this rally is not new and it is going to be fantastic to be on a road that we know well in one of the best cars out there. It is very important for the fans in Poland to be able to see the best rally drivers in the world. I think that there will be a massive number of people who come out to watch. It is very exciting for us to be part of one of the best teams and I think it will be a surprise for some people to see a driver who doesn't take part in the WRC regularly go quite fast on the stages."
Team Principal Malcolm Wilson:
"Rally Poland is a new event for all of the drivers, so to some extent it's a step into the unknown. But Scott's experience there in 2007 should be a great help to the team. Matthew and Henning had their share of problems at the Acropolis Rally, but they demonstrated resilience in putting those behind them. Their stage wins proved the kind of pace that they both are capable of. Matthew posted top-six times on ten stages in Greece, and I am sure that he will be able to maintain that performance in Poland and get the good finish that his consistency merits. We are delighted to have Krzysztof Holowczyc joining us for this rally and his local knowledge and experience will be of benefit to the whole Stobart team."