Japan : Stobart M-Sport Ford - Preview
Rally Japan, the eleventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, will be a momentous occasion for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally as it debuts its brand-new Ford Focus RS WRC06 cars, driven by Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc.
ten WRC events this year using the familiar older-style Ford Focus RS WRC05, the Stobart team takes its next step forward with the move to the 2006 generation Ford Focus RS WRC06, based on the latest Ford Focus road car and the same car that has been used by the BP Ford World Rally Team since late last season.
It is the early debut of the '06 generation car by the BP Ford World Rally Team, run by the same M-Sport operation which run the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team, which enables the squad to become the first-ever team other than the Manufacturer One operation to use a Focus RS WRC06.
Now more than half way through his debut WRC season, 19 year-old Cumbrian Matthew Wilson reckons getting his hands on this car is as exciting as any element of his rookie season. Wilson has completed a limited number of shakedown runs in a '06 Focus, but did manage some kilometres behind the wheel of Marcus Gronhom's Neste Oil Rally Finland winning car after that rally.
Wilson drove the actual car he will drive in Rally Japan on a shakedown at WA Developments-owned Carlisle Airport last week, filmed by the local television channel.
The cars that Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr and the sister crew of Luis Perez Companc and José Maria Volta will use in Japan are both brand new builds, completed at M-Sport's Dovenby Hall base near Cockermouth, Cumbria.
The primary difference between the Focus used by the Stobart team so far this season and the new car is the obvious change of the road car it is based on, but beneath the surface there are unseen variations. The latest rules mandate a change to passive differentials on the front and rear with an active centre diff on the new car as opposed to all three being active on the older car. Weight distribution, suspension travel and setup are all changed too, meaning lessons learned on the older car have to be relearned for the new one.
Rally Japan has only been on the WRC calendar since 2004 and was won last year by Marcus Gronholm
and the previous year by Petter Solberg. Just as the majority of the events this season, it is not one which Matthew Wilson has experienced previously, although co-driver Michael Orr can point to experience on last year's event, co-driving for Anthony Warmbold.
Luis Perez Companc and José Maria Volta return to the second Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team for their fifth outing having competed this season for the squad in Sweden, Mexico, Argentina and Italy with a best result of ninth in Argentina.
Rally Japan presents a very difference surface from that of the airport runway on which Wilson's '06 Focus first turned its wheels in anger. In keeping with the remaining six events on the WRC calendar it will be a gravel surface. Japan is a fast and flowing event with gravel said to have a consistency similar to that of Rally New Zealand's.
The weather, as on any event, could present a challenge and the early September timing means that it is the middle of the Japanese typhoon season. The location of the rally on the nation's northern Hokkaido island means that any storms should miss the event, but it is a factor about which the team are well aware.
Rally Japan comprises of 345 km of competitive distance over 27 stages. The event commences with a ceremonial start in central Obihiro on Thursday evening at 19.30 local time and finishes at Kita Aikoku at 15.00 on Sunday afternoon. The following event for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team will be Rally Cyprus on September 22-24.
“It's not an event I've done before and I've only driven the new Focus very briefly so it's going to be interesting. Michael's done the rally before so I'll be relying on him a lot. Getting to drive the 2006 Focus is probably something I've been looking forward to more than anything else this year so it will be really good to finally be in the car. In Finland it was good to get a top ten result and we're just going to have the same approach as every rally this year and go out and learn the event.”
Luis Perez Companc
“I have not done Rally Japan before so it will be very interesting to see the event. It will be my first rally in the new Focus and I am very much looking forward to that. Everyone has told me it is a very narrow rally, very fast, but with not much room for error. This will make it a very difficult rally and I don't really know what to expect.”
Malcolm Wilson, Team Manager
“Japan will be a big challenge for Matthew and the team as not only is it a new rally for them but it's a new car too. The aim for them is no different, they have to learn the event, but this time they have to learn a new car too. We managed to give Matthew an opportunity to have a couple of hours in the '06 Focus in Finland on a BP drive day so he has at least been behind the wheel which is crucial. The important thing is trying to understand the event and get the kilometres in.”
Press release Stobart M-Sport Ford