Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg believe they can go on the attack at Rally Japan and aim for their best results so far in the FIA World Rally Championship 2010.
Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin are aiming to score a top five finish in Japan next week. The 23-year-old Cumbrian scored his best WRC result so far there when he finished fourth overall in 2007, and with the Championship returning to his preferred loose gravel surface the young driver is hoping to replicate his past success on Japanese soil and secure his second top five finish of the season in the Ford Focus RS WRC.
Team-mate Henning Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor will be back behind the wheel of a Ford Focus RS WRC for the tenth round of the 2010 WRC season. The Norwegian driver has returned as the team’s second nominated points scorer after piloting a Ford Fiesta S2000 at the previous WRC round in Germany.
Solberg also has a strong track record in the land of the rising sun. The experienced 37-year-old has contested the Asian-based event twice, and on his first outing there in 2007 the Stobart regular claimed third overall after an impressive drive.
Like team-mate Wilson, Solberg will hope that a return to his favoured surface will give him a chance to push for a big result. Currently only one point off claiming eighth position from fellow Ford Focus RS WRC driver Federico Villagra in the Drivers’ Championship Standings, he will be looking for enough points to leap-frog the Argentinean while also staying ahead of Citroën rival and former F1 world champion Kimi Räikkönen who is four points behind him.
After a year’s absence, Rally Japan has returned to the FIA World Rally Championship calendar. This will be the sixth edition of the event which is based in Sapporo – Japan’s fifth-largest city and capital of the north island of Hokkaido.
From 2004 – 2007, the rally was based in the Tokachi region, close to the city of Obihiro but the rally moved to a new base in the city of Sapporo for 2008 with a selection of gravel stages in the surrounding countryside and forests. It also featured one of the most spectacular Super Specials of the year at the Sapporo Dome sports stadium – a futuristic looking building which has a seating capacity of over 40,000 and has previously hosted three games during the 2002 Soccer World Cup.
There will be a few tweaks to this year’s stages as they feature six new stages and the rally has also moved slightly further north compared to 2008. The Stobart crews will have to complete eight runs round the 1.57 km Super Special Stage at the Sapporo Dome throughout the event, including a ceremonial start and two laps of the Super Special on the Thursday evening.
The first full day of action will consist of a repeat loop of three tests totalling 116.46 km which are based to the south of Sapporo. All three stages have been used in previous years and are forestry based. The end of the first day will culminate with two Super Special Stages round the Sapporo Dome sports stadium.
Saturday will be the longest day of this year’s Rally Japan for the Stobart crews and includes a repeat loop of three stages based south-east of the service park. It also includes the longest stage of the rally, Kamuycep, which is a 33.76km forest-based test (SS12 and SS15). The day will finish with two Super Special Stages at the Sapporo Dome.
The final day will run without a midday service and a new addition to the four-day event is the spectator-friendly stage, Sunagawa, which provides great viewing opportunities thanks to a stage start on a tarmac kart course (SS21 and SS24). The remaining six stages on Sunday include two more laps round the Sapporo Dome and also a repeat loop of two new tests based north-east of the service park.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“I’m happy to return to gravel after the last all-tarmac round in Germany, it’s definitely my preferred surface and I always enjoy myself more when driving on gravel. Japan has been a good event for me in the past, I achieved my best ever result there in 2007 and I really enjoy the culture, it’s so different from home. Scott [Martin] can use about 80% of his pace notes from 2008’s rally as there’s only six new stages this year, so I think we’ll be quite well prepared. I’ve heard that the weather forecast is mainly dry for the rally and I hope it’ll stay that way, the forest based stages will get really slippery if it’s wet. I want to finish in the top five at this event and if I find a good rhythm in the rally’s opening stages I think we can do that.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I really like the stages in Japan but they are also very challenging for drivers and it’s easy to feel too confident and push too hard in the beginning. I’ve only been to Japan twice before – the last time was not so good for us because we had some technical problems but we will work hard at the recce so I can learn the stages as best as I can. For sure, I think I can do well at this event, I like driving the Ford Focus best on gravel and I think if I can maintain a consistent pace throughout then I will finish in a good position.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Japan has been a strong round for the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team in the past and I am confident that both Matthew and Henning can produce some of their best results of the season next week. Henning was unfortunate to retire from 2008’s event but he is an experienced driver who has proved he can adapt well to different road conditions, so I have little doubt that he will fare well in Japan this time round. We only have three WRC rounds remaining in the 2010 season after this, so I’d really like to see the Stobart team leave Japan on the back of a strong showing and for Henning to have moved up the overall Drivers’ Championship Standings.”
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