The blue, green and white livery of Stobart Motorsport has become a regular sight on the stages of the World Rally Championship since the team was established in 2006. Stobart’s aim is to ensure a place for developing talent under the Ford banner, and with names like Matthew Wilson, Jari-Matti Latvala and Francois Duval it’s got off to an excellent start.
Run by Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport operation, the Stobart team made its WRC debut in 2006 with drivers Matthew Wilson, Jari-Matti Latvala, Luis Perez Companc and Kosti Katajamaki. The team collected 44 points in the manufacturers’ title chase, beating more experienced drivers in the Red Bull Skoda team to take fifth in the standings.
Wilson remained in 2007, but was partnered this time by Latvala and proven WRC contender Henning Solberg. While the team had no championship expectations, team boss Malcolm Wilson expected solid results from his drivers – and he wasn’t disappointed. The team scored points on every single event and just three rallies in, on Rally Norway, Henning Solberg became the first ever Stobart driver to step onto a WRC podium.
Things continued on an upward path as Latvala led Rally d’Italia Sardinia, Rally Japan and his home event of Rally Finland. And by the penultimate round of the season, a consistent finishing record had moved the Stobart team up to third on the manufacturers’ table – ahead of Subaru’s factory outfit. Although it later dropped back behind Subaru on the final round, the team achieved its best result in the manufacturers’ category and had proved its giant-killing potential.
In 2008 the team featured an extensive and changeable driver line-up. Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson remained key players, while Italian star Gigi Galli was scheduled for a full programme after Latvala’s promotion to the factory Ford team. Belgian asphalt ace Francois Duval also featured on selected rounds, while a massive seven car squad on the season closer in Wales included MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi.
Galli’s season ending crash in Germany forced some re-jigging of drivers in the second half of the year. And the Stobart team’s close ties with the factory Ford team were highlighted when Latvala found himself back in Stobart colours for a couple of rallies, while Duval took his place in the works team. Highlights of the season were the podiums scored by Galli in Sweden and Duval in Germany and fourth in the Manufacturer Team contest again.
Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson were team mainstays again in 2009, but the chance to drive a near-factory spec Ford Focus World Rally Car also attracted leading privateer drivers like Urmo Aava (Ireland and Norway) and Krzysztof Holowczyc (Poland).
Guest drivers are likely to be a feature of the 2010 line-up too, but it’s doubtful they’ll rival the calibre of the one on the opening round in Sweden; former Ford factory team driver Marcus Gronholm.