Following a brief interlude on asphalt, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team will make the return to gravel next week with four crews representing the team on home soil at the 2012 Wales Rally GB. Looking to translate their speed into strong points, regular point scorers Ott Tänak and Evgeny Novikov will be joined by returning home favourite, Matthew Wilson and South African star, Jan Habig.
Rich in heritage, Wales Rally GB is one of the oldest and most prestigious rallies in the world. First run in 1932, the event has been a qualifying round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) since the inaugural season in 1973 and with a strong record on the Welsh stages, the M-Sport foursome will be looking to thrive on the team’s home event.
Synonymous with rain, mud and slippery forestry roads, the infamous tracks of Wales Rally GB form some of the most technically challenging stages on the calendar. The earlier schedule for this year’s event may well forecast higher grip levels and faster roads, but in this part of the world, nothing can be taken for granted and the tenth round of the season is sure to throw its usual dose of drama into the mix.
Having contested Rally GB on two previous occasions, Evgeny Novikov will be looking to get his 2012 WRC campaign back on track at an event he knows well and secured seventh place overall on last season. Having completed a pre-event test behind the wheel of his ALM Russia supported Ford Fiesta RS WRC on Sunday, the Russian will be ready for the fight and looking to replicate the impressive form he showed on gravel at the beginning of the season.
With regular co-driver Denis Giraudet still recovering from injuries incurred at last month’s Neste Oil Rally Finland, Rally GB will see Novikov partnered by a third navigator in as many events. But with last year’s podium finishing co-driver, Ilka Minor, reading the notes, the 21-year-old will be in good hands. Minor is the only navigator to have co-driven for three drivers at the pinnacle of the sport this season – Henning Solberg, Manfred Stohl and now Novikov – and is more than capable of quickly adapting to the challenges of a new partnership.
After claiming their first two stage wins on asphalt at Rallye Deutschland last month,Ott Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk will head to Rally GB full of confidence and eager for another strong showing to prove their potential.
The 24-year-old has an impressive record on the British event. Debuting as part of the Pirelli Star Driver scheme in 2010, the Estonian claimed a dominant victory in the P-WRC – taking the win by more than three minutes which also saw him clinch a credible 17th place finish. Taking to the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC for the first time in his career at the event last year, Tänak impressed once more – overcoming early problems to claim an inspiring sixth place – and will be keen to show more of the same this year.
Making a welcome return to the WRC, Matthew Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin will form the only all-British pairing at this year’s event and will be looking to secure a strong result in front of the home crowd. Never out of the top-ten on his previous five ventures to the event, Wilson secured fifth place last year as the Blue Oval occupied eight of the first nine places – an accomplishment never before achieved by a manufacturer in the WRC.
Completing a pre-event test last week, the 25-year-old will travel to Wales this week for a further test ahead of the event. Getting back into the groove of gravel rallying – a surface on which he has not competed since last season – Wilson will be looking to secure a good result behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, the livery of which truly identifies his Cumbrian roots and is due for release later today.
Joining the team for a one-off event next weekend, South African Jan Habig will also be looking for a strong result. Having made his debut in the WRC at the 1994 Network Q RAC Rally, Habig claimed eighth place overall and will be keen to make his mark on the British stages once again.
As a regular and popular competitor in the South African Rally Championship, Habig pilots a Ford Fiesta S2000 for the Basil Read Ford Rally Team and will make history in Wales as the first South African to take to the wheel of a new generation World Rally Car as he pilots a Ford Fiesta RS WRC liveried in the colours of his Basil Read sponsor.
Joining Habig in the Navigator’s seat will be British co-driver, Robbie Durant. With seven WRC starts to his name, Durant is an accomplished co-driver perhaps better known for partnering fellow Brit Harry Hunt in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Evgeny Novikov said:
“I have a good feeling ahead of this event. Obviously I have another new co-driver, so hopefully that will be fine and I am looking forward to seeing how everything works out.
“We had a pre-event test on Sunday which is very positive, so hopefully we will be able to get the best set-up and be fully prepared going into the rally.
“It will be interesting to see what the weather does. Personally, I have never driven this event at this time of year before, but it should be drier, and maybe the stages will be a lot faster too.
“As usual, we will just try and do the best we can for a good result.”
Ott Tänak said:
“This has been a good event for us in the past. We won here in 2010 [as part of the P-WRC] and then we had another good result last year so the feeling is good.
“This year the rally is a bit earlier so it could be a new challenge for us. It was in 2005 when the event was last this early and I know that it was quite dry then – it was really quick and there was quite a lot of grip in some places. But for sure this is GB – the weather can change all the time and anything can happen!
“We had a really good feeling with the car on Tarmac in Germany and we also learnt a lot about how to best set-up the car which I think will help us on gravel too. So all in all, the feeling is good and we will be looking for a good result.”
Matthew Wilson said:
“I can’t wait to get back out on the stages, especially after we had such a good test on Tuesday! It took a little while to get back into the rhythm of driving on gravel – [Wales Rally] GB last year was actually our last run out on gravel – but once we had a few runs under our belt everything felt great.
“We will have another test down in Wales on Monday which will make us well and truly ready for the event next week. The conditions on the test should be quite similar to those we will experience on the rally, so it should be really good preparation.
“Obviously the conditions will be a bit different this year with the event not being run in November as usual. Even if it does rain, it will be a lot warmer and the stages will dry a lot quicker. Potentially we could be in for a really fast event and I am really looking forward to it.”
Jan Habig said:
“I am very excited to upgrade to the WRC specification Fiesta and believe that we will gain a tremendous amount of knowledge working alongside the M-Sport team.
“In South Africa, the forest stages are my favourite and the Welsh stages appear quite fast with a good road surface so I am looking forward to them.
“I am sure Robbie [Durant], the car and I will quickly find a good rhythm and hopefully secure a good result on my return to the WRC.”
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