Stobart Aim for Turkish Delight
After a year's absence the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) will return to Turkey next week, where the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team aim to build on their success from the previous rounds in Jordan, Mexico and Sweden.
Martin performed well in the blazing heat in Jordan last week as they scored their best finish in the 2010 WRC so far by claiming fifth place. Despite Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor suffering a costly puncture on the second day, the duo still managed to finish inside the top ten. This resulted in the Cumbrian-based squad closing the gap on third place of the Manufacturers' Championship Standings Table and leaving the third round of the WRC with a healthy haul of 16 points.
Since its introduction to the championship in 2003 the Rally of Turkey has been known for its rough gravel roads which run through picturesque mountain scenery in the country's southwest region near Antalya. However, the Stobart crews will face a new challenge this year as organisers have moved the rally to the 2010 European Capital of Culture and the world's fifth largest city, Istanbul.
The Stobart team have previously performed well in Turkey, with Solberg finishing in fifth position overall in 2008 and his team-mate Matthew Wilson just behind in seventh.
The new spectacular location for the sixth edition of Rally of Turkey will be unique in the World Rally Championship calendar, as Istanbul straddles two continents and the ceremonial start will be based in Europe but over the course of the three-day event competitors will be racing in Asia.
Rally HQ will be based in Pendik, a district of Istanbul based on the Asian side between Kartal and Tuza on the Marmara sea. The event will officially begin on Thursday 15 April in the historical Sultanahment Square right in the heart of the city, between the famous Blue Mosque and Haghai Sophia.
The re-located event will see the Ford Focus RS WRCs of the Stobart team cover 358km of competitive stage distance over 23 tests. The special stages will be based on the Asian side of Istanbul and generally the roads will be fast, wide and smooth - but the predominantly gravel route also contains almost 50km of asphalt which may prove tricky on roads the teams are not familiar with.
The first day consists of a series of nine short stages over 98.43km, but the second day will be more challenging as the team cover more ground - including the longest stage at 27.17km. The final day comprises of just six stages, but with a total of 114.60km these are some of the longest in the rally and will require the crews' full attention to ensure they can deal with the balance of driving on the mix of gravel and asphalt.
The Stobart M-Sport Rally Team currently lie in fourth position in FIA Manufacturers' Championship with 44 points, just four behind the rival Citroen Junior Team.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"It's been two years since we've last been in Turkey and it was a really strong event for us last time. I've heard that the weather out there isn't too good at the moment so this could make the stages quite muddy and slippery but I'm excited about the new location. I imagine that the ceremonial start in the city centre on the Thursday night will be spectacular."
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"After getting two punctures and losing valuable time in Jordan, I'll be looking to improve my performance in Turkey next week. I did well in the last Turkish rally two years ago finishing in fifth place so I am looking for a similar result this time round. The new stages might be tough as we're not familiar with the roads but I'm looking forward to the challenge and hopefully producing more points for the team."
Stobart M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"Matthew got a great confidence boost from his fifth position finish in Jordan and I am confident that he will perform just as well in Turkey next week. Henning was undoubtedly unlucky in Jordan as punctures cost him valuable time but he has a great track record out in Turkey so this will be a great opportunity for the Stobart team to close the gap even further in the manufactures' championship table."