Sweden Rally 2006: Stobart M-Sport Ford - Shakedown
Matthew Wilson returned to the driving seat of his Ford Focus RS WRC 05 this morning, for the first time since clinching a confidence-boosting finish on the Monte Carlo Rally just 11 days ago. He completed his final preparations
for the Uddeholm Swedish Rally, round two of the FIA World Rally Championship, without any problems.
In a brief spell at the Wilson family home in Cumbria after Monte Carlo, Matthew found time to celebrate his 19th birthday. Despite the onset of another year, however, he arrives in Sweden just as inexperienced as he was in Monte Carlo; he's never competed on the Karlstad-based rally before.
Prior to this morning's shakedown stage, Matthew's only experience of the wintry conditions came from three snow rallies in Finland just over 12 months ago. The conditions in Sweden are, however, perfect. Sub-zero temperatures have been a feature of this part of central Sweden for the last two weeks and, with heavy snow falling in the run up to the event, the drivers are predicting a classic Swedish Rally.
After Matthew, who will contest all 16 rounds of the 2006 WRC in the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team, had been grilled by the world's motorsport media in the FIA press conference (another first for him) he, and his fellow Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team member Kosti Katajamaki, crossed the ceremonial start line in the centre of Karlstad. The rally's headquarters remain in Karlstad, but the action takes place on the frozen roads to the north around Hagfors. The drivers will remain in Hagfors from Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon, when the cars return to Karlstad for the finish after three days, 16 gruelling stages and a total of 1,441 kilometres (349 of which are competitive).
I feel more relaxed about this event than I did in Monte Carlo. It was good to get the first event under my belt, getting to the finish calmed my nerves quite a lot. Physically, this event seems to be more relaxed as well. When we were on the stages on Monte Carlo, I was always really tense just waiting for the grip level to change. Where was the next patch of black ice coming? Did that wheel just lock? Where should I brake? Is that really dry asphalt with good grip? All of the time I was so tense.
Here in Sweden, it's quite different. The grip level is quite constant, you can judge what the car's going to do everything seems much easier to read. In physical terms, this means the whole thing's not quite so stressful, I've found I'm not sweating as much and things like that. It's all much more chilled out in the true sense of the word as well, given that it's going to be minus 10 on the rally! The shakedown went really well for us this morning. We did three runs, the first of which was really just to get to grips with the road and the conditions. On my run after that, I was 12 seconds faster. I really enjoyed this morning. This is the first time I've driven this car in these conditions. The last time I was in snow which was 12 months ago I was in a 2003 Focus. The differences between the cars are subtle, but it still takes time to get to grips with the new one.
Like Matthew, I'm still getting used to this car. I did the Arctic Rally just over a week ago, but that was in an older Focus. Okay, I won that rally, but I wasn't so happy with my driving I made too many mistakes for my liking. It was good for me to have some idea on the set-up of the car and I have brought some of those ideas with me to this rally. I've worked a little bit on the set-up this morning, but nothing too big. It's easy to make many changes to the set-up of the car and then maybe end up going the wrong way. It's really difficult to say what kind of a result I could expect from here. I want to get to the finish without any problems.
Malcolm Wilson, Driver Principal
It's great to see both of the young guys out enjoying their driving this morning. I remember from when I did this event, it was an absolute pleasure to drive here. It was always one of my favourite rounds of the world championship. Like last time, it's going to be a bit of a baptism of fire for Matthew, but like he says he will have much more constant grip than he had on the last rally and that should give him more confidence.
Press release Stobart M-Sport Ford