FSTi crews set for taste of Turkey
The 2010 Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) series gets underway next week as the competition joins the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) for the fifth successive year, kicking off with the first of seven rounds at the Rally of Turkey.
This will be the second time that FSTi has visited Turkey, the last time being in 2008, which proved to be a real challenge for the FSTi drivers.
The series, run by M-Sport with support from Pirelli, will again run alongside the WRC, taking in the Vodafone Rally de Portugal, Neste Oil Rally Finland, ADAC Rallye Deutschland, the new Alsace-based Rallye de France, Rally de Espana and, finally, the Rally of Great Britain.
The FST concept was previously based around the GpN Ford Fiesta ST and, whilst this will remain eligible for FSTi, the primary championship contender will be the Ford Fiesta R2. With a five-speed sequential gearbox, the Ford Fiesta R2 is based on the Ford Fiesta Sport using the 1.6L Ti-Vct 120PS (1598cc) base engine as in regular production. It is built from a standard conversion kit developed by M-Sport and has won its class on both the WRC events that it has entered to date.
Since its introduction to the championship in 2003, the Rally of Turkey has been known for its rough gravel roads in the country's southwest region near Antalya, but the location of this year's rally has moved to Istanbul, the only city in the world to span two continents (Europe and Asia), where the 358km of stages promise to be wider, smoother and faster. The rally organisers have also chosen to take advantage of a new FIA regulation for 2010 permitting mixed surface events, so the predominantly gravel route contains almost 50km of asphalt, which will concentrate the minds of any drivers not local to the region
Returning to Turkey will be reigning FSTi champion Craig Breen, who will be driving a GpN Fiesta ST for this one-off event under the Castrol Team Turkiye banner with his regular co-driver Gareth Roberts. Following the success of his debut rally year (titles include FSTi, FST UK, FST Ireland, Junior Irish Rally Champion and FST International Shootout winner), the 20-year-old Irishman is mounting a British Rally Championship (BRC) campaign in his Ford Fiesta S2000 in 2010. A gap in the BRC calendar has allowed Breen the opportunity to contest the Rally of Turkey in a Fiesta ST, the model that served him so well in 2009.
Breen, however, is not the only FST Shootout winner to be competing in Turkey. Victor Henriksson (22) from Sweden was the first winner of the Shootout in 2007, so both drivers will be competing with the experience of training for a year at M-Sport and working for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team. Henriksson and co-driver Håkan Palm, however, will be driving the new Fiesta R2 and intends to compete in four FSTi rounds this year, so he will be driving with the aim of solid championship points. The young Swede has only competed in FSTi on one occasion (Rally GB 2007), but he took the FSTi victory so his confidence ahead of Turkey should be good.
British crew Harry Hunt (21) and co-driver Sebastian Marshall have taken advantage of the Junior WRC+FSTi package, which allows them to enter two championships and to score points toward the J-WRC Rookie Award. Hunt's rally debut was the Malcolm Wilson Rally based in the UK, and was a FST UK regular in 2009. His plans for 2010 are far more ambitious, as he undertakes a full Intercontinental Rally Championship (IRC) campaign, in addition to all European WRC events.
The event will officially begin on Thursday 15 April in the historical Sultanahment Square in the heart of the city, between the famous Blue Mosque and Haghai Sophia.
FSTi competitors will be competing for an all-expenses-paid test in the newly developed Ford Fiesta S2000 with BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team driver and 2009 World Championship runner-up Mikko Hirvonen, with the chance to discuss the test with the flying Finn and M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson OBE. A prize fund is also available from which the winner of each rally will receive a 1,500 M-Sport voucher.
As in previous years, the series winner plus one 'wildcard' will be put forward to the FST International Shootout to compete against drivers from other FST championships around the world in order to win a year's contract to work at M-Sport with the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team.
Of the seven counting rounds, the best points from five rounds will count towards the championship standings. This will allow those drivers who have completed the full season to drop any low scores, but will also assist those drivers who are only able to compete on an event-by-event basis to score highly overall if they achieve good results on an occasional basis. Scoring for 2010 will be as per FIA scoring, but with one point awarded for each stage win in order to reward drivers for demonstrations of outright pace.
2009 FSTi champion Craig Breen said:
"I'm really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Fiesta ST again after a long absence. Since winning the FST Shootout, I have enjoyed three months of working with the Ford World Rally Team, thanks to Malcolm Wilson and his experienced team of staff at M-Sport. This rally is a bit of fun, as well as an exercise in learning the stages so that we can return next year in our S2000 Fiesta, and be prepared to win. That said, I am looking forward to the competition from the rest of the FSTi field, it should be an exciting rally."