Stobart Push for Portugal Points
The Stobart M-Sport Ford World Rally Team will be pushing to move into a podium position in the Manufacturers' championship standings when it competes in the 44th edition of the Vodafone Rally de Portugal next week.
The Cumbrian team
is currently one point from taking third position in the FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers' Championship, and its two Ford Focus RS WRC crews of Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin and Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor will travel to the Algarve region aiming to secure enough points to put Stobart into the slipstream of the two factory outfits at the head of the table.
The Rally de Portugal has previously been action-packed for the green team. In 2009's edition, Solberg got off to a flying start and led his first WRC event after a fantastic opening Super Special Stage. The Norwegian went on to finish the rally in fifth position overall. Wilson was less lucky, as he was forced to retire in the penultimate stage when he slid off the road and rolled his Ford Focus RS WRC.
Portugal is a country with a long rallying tradition. The first Portuguese round of the WRC was introduced in 1973, and over the next 29 years it went on to become a notoriously difficult but extremely popular rally. This year's event holds the record for the most number of starts the 2010 WRC season so far - with 75 entries from 33 countries worldwide.
The four-day event will kick off with a ceremonial start at the Algarve Stadium on the Thursday evening, followed by a short 2.03km tarmac Super Special Stage where cars will compete side-by-side. The car park in front of the stadium is the team base and is only 8km from Faro airport, making it a very convenient event for the teams, media and spectators to get close to the action. The recently-constructed stadium can seat a maximum capacity of 30,000 people, and huge crowds are expected to pack the stands during the event.
This year's Rally de Portugal comprises of 18 special stages covering 355.32km, with a spectacular selection of gravel stages in the Algarve and Alentego regions in the north. With mild weather expected next week, the stages will be dry with fast hard-packed surface, providing all competitors with a testing event for the front-runners.
Dust, however, could provide a big part in the proceedings as crews will struggle in the poor visibility and concentration levels will be pushed to the limit by the varying pace of the stages high in the hills above the Portuguese tourist resort of Faro. Moreover, the high average temperature of could prove troublesome for the Stobart crews, as they will be forced to cope with extremely hot conditions inside their Ford Focus RS WRCs.
Day one consists of a series of six stages north-west of the service park in Algarve Stadium totalling 130.61km. There will be a few tweaks to the route featuring some new starts or finishes, but the main difference from 2009 will be the day's opening Santa Clara stage (SS2 and SS6), will now run in reverse.
The second full day is the longest in the rally and comprises of 135.10km of competitive distance covering six gravel stages north of the service park, including a repeat loop of the rally's longest stage, 26.20km Almodovar (SS8 and SS11), which kicks off the morning and afternoon loop.
The final day of Rally de Portugal will feature four all-gravel stages, with the only difference to last year's route being on the Felizes 21.28km stage (SS14 and SS16) which has a new 3.11km finish. The rally will finish with another stage round the 2.03km tarmac stage round the Algarve Stadium.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"I'm really looking forward to going back to Portugal. My stage times were good in this rally last year and we are keen to keep the momentum going from New Zealand earlier this month. The stages will be harder on the car than New Zealand and the amount of dust from the dry weather recently could be a potential problem. There is always a huge buzz at Rally de Portugal and the super special stages in the Algarve Stadium provide a fantastic atmosphere as there are huge crowds."
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"I had some problems with handling over in New Zealand but everything should be sorted for Portugal. The rally has some very nice stages but I think the good weather there recently might have made some of the stages very dusty, which could be a problem. As always I will work my hardest to get points for the team."
Stobart M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"The Stobart M-Sport Ford team have been doing well this season and I hope that they can close the gap on the Manufacturers' Championship Table when they go to Portugal next week. Matthew's times have been steadily improving throughout the season and his confidence is high. Henning has been quite unlucky during the last two WRC rounds but he did well in Portugal last year so I think he will improve his times greatly in this round. Hopefully both of our drivers can produce another good performance and strengthen their impressive positions in the Championship."