The Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team will aim to open the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship season in style when it travels to Sweden next week with a former world champion in its ranks.
Regular drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg will be joined by double WRC title-winners Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen, who won the event in 2006 and 2007 when driving a Ford Focus RS WRC for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team. Mattias Therman will also enter under the Stobart banner. The quartet of crews will all enter using a Ford Focus RS WRC prepared by M-Sport.
Grönholm and Solberg will be the nominated points scorers for the team and given the success Stobart has enjoyed in Sweden in previous years – including a third-place podium spot courtesy of Gigi Galli in 2008 and a fourth-place from Solberg in 2007 – the squad will be determined to shine on the snowy Scandinavian stages once again.
However, many of the stages will be new to the drivers with Rally Sweden returning to the WRC calendar for the first time since 2008. Since the last event the route has been changed to include stages further north in the country in a bid to ensure there is as much snow on them as possible and make it a true ‘winter rally’.
Starting and finishing in Karlstad, with the main service park in Hagfors, the rally will take in 345 kilometres of competitive stage distance. After kicking off with the opening Super Special stage in Karlstad on the Thursday evening, crews will face a tough test on Friday as they tackle six stages of 122.54 kilometres, before returning to Karlstad again for a re-run of the Super Special. Apart from the Super Specials virtually all of the stage routes are new to the rally – meaning drivers will have to be on top form in order not to fall victim to what are expected to be extremely tough conditions on the roads.
Day two will see crews face a further eight stages, including the longest and shortest on the rally – the 24.63km Vargåsen and 1.87km Hagfors Sprint respectively. Once again the majority of the distance is new for 2010 and is likely to provide a tough testof the competitors’ abilities.
More familiar territory awaits crews who have tackled the event in the past on day three, with all five of the remaining stages incorporating routes used in 2008.
With temperatures expected to be among the coldest in 20 years and drop as low as -20C, with plenty of snow and ice on the roads, the Stobart crews will look to make the most of Pirelli’s SottoZero control snow tyre. The specially-developed compound features nearly 400 tungsten-tipped metal studs to give crews maximum traction in the sub-zero conditions.
The team’s Scandinavian contingent will be especially confident of using their experience to master the winter weather and give Stobart M-Sport Ford a blistering start to the 2010 season.
Other Stobart M-Sport Ford team news:
Stobart M-Sport Ford crew Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin attended the official launch of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship in Paris.
The Cumbrian duo lined up in front of a global media audience alongside the other stars of the WRC such as Mikko Hirvonen, Jari-Matti Latvala, Sébastien Loeb, Dani Sordo, Petter Solberg and the championship’s latest big-name additions – Kimi Raikkonen and Ken Block.
Henning Solberg will line up in Sweden for the Stobart M-Sport Ford team with a new co-driver. Having previously worked with navigator Cato Menkerud for nine years, the Norwegian has made a change for 2010 with the addition of Austrian co-pilot Ilka Minor.
Minor is a seasoned competitor who has tackled almost 70 WRC rallies, has previously worked with Solberg on his safety notes and was a former team-mate at Peugeot.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Marcus Grönholm said:
“I’m really happy to be driving the Ford Focus again; it still feels really good to drive. All the stages on this rally will be quite difficult but I hear that there has been a lot of snow so there should be some big snow banks which will make the conditions good. Realistically my aim is for a podium, yes it would be fantastic to be challenging for the win but that is going to be difficult after having such a long break from the WRC; I will just need to wait and see how my speed is.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I’m excited about this rally in Sweden. Snow is my favourite surface and we set some good times last year in Norway. But with Rally Norway not in the WRC this year, Sweden will feel like my home event so I want to put on a good show for the Norwegian fans that will come to watch and for my sponsors Expert. It’s great to be back in the Ford Focus and hopefully with my new co-driver Ilka, we will be able to get a good start to the season.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“The recce will be very important as we weren’t in Sweden last year and some stages are from 2007; but the conditions should be great. We are starting the championship on one of the quickest rallies of the year so the challenge will be to get up to speed straight away on the first day. We’ve experienced some arctic conditions in the UK over the last few months but to drive flat out on snow stages with studs is an amazing experience and totally different to any other event in the WRC calendar.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Mattias Therman said:
“I’m really looking forward to the rally next week. My last event in the Ford Focus RS WRC in Finland last year was a fantastic experience and if Sweden is half the amount of fun I had in Finland then I will be happy. I haven’t competed in Rally Sweden before so it will be difficult for me but I have the perfect team-mate in Marcus Grönholm to give me some advice. I’m not expecting to be fast; I really want to complete the rally. If I’m in the top-15 at the finish I will be pleased.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s fantastic to see Stobart Group continuing for its fifth season in the World Rally Championship and continuing to support Matthew again; his target this year is to achieve some podium finishes. The Stobart team have an impressive history in Sweden, Gigi Galli scored a podium there last time out, and with Marcus and Henning heading up the team, there’s no reason why another podium couldn’t be achieved. It’s great to see Marcus back behind the wheel of a Ford Focus again.”
Date: February 12-14, 2010
Round: 1 of 13 FIA World Rally Championship
Based: Karlstad, Sweden
Stage surface: Snow covered gravel
Total stage distance: 345.15kms
Number of stages: 21
Longest stage: 24.63km Vargåsen (SS9/SS13)
Service Park: Hagfors