Catalunya : Stobart M-Sport Ford - Preview
From the gravel of Mexico to the specialist high-speed tarmac stages of Spain for Britain's youngest professional rally driver, 19 year-old Cumbrian Matthew Wilson, who next weekend is in action in his fourth World Rally Championship
event of 2006, Rally RACC Catalunya.
The Spanish stages will serve up a real challenge. Not only are they some of the highest speed tarmac tests of the year, there is also the challenge of gravel kicked up by competitors ahead on the road, meaning the grip available around the blind bends is never certain. It's a real test of nerves, the quality of the crew's pace notes and the reactions of the driver to the changing conditions.
As if the presence of gravel was not enough, rain is threatened to further complicate matters and make tyre choice yet more important. Rally Catalunya has moved from his position late in the year and back to early spring meaning temperatures in the 20 degree Celsius range, but any relative cold and potential wet is unlikely to dampen the enthusiasm of the Spanish fans, who are amongst the most enthusiastic encountered in the year.
This is only the second time that the rally has been run from its new base at Costa Daurada, but that won't diminish the speed of the tarmac specialists who only compete in certain events in the calendar as opposed to the full campaign that Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr are undertaking.
The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team is joined by Jari-Matti Latvala in Spain, the Finnish driver in his first tarmac event in a WRC car since 2003. He will be co-driven by fellow Finn, Miikka Anttila.
"I'm looking forward to Spain, but it's going to be a lot more difficult than it was last time in Mexico. There could be rain, and that's going to make tyre choice crucial. There's some very good tarmac specialists in the event so I can't expect to be up the front like I was last time. I'm just going to be sensible and settle down to it and build the experience. It could help me that it's only the second time that the WRC has been held on these stages as there's less opportunity for the other guys to have built experience there, it might make a more level field."
"I can't wait to get out in action. It's not since 2003 that I drove a WRC car on tarmac, but the stages in Spain are just right; not too fast and not too slow. The only difficult thing is making sure you use the same lines as the top guys as they cut the corners and gravel gets on the road. As long as you're on the same line that they use it's not a problem. If you try and use another line then that's where there are problems."
Malcolm Wilson, Team Principal
"I'm really pleased by Matthew's performance this year and was really encouraged by how he handled himself in Mexico. Spain should provide another challenge, but it's all part of the learning process and getting the stage miles under his belt. Experience is vital at this point in Matthew's career, and it's all part of the process he needs to go through to get to the top."
Press release Stobart VK M-Sport