The M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team are looking to continue their record-breaking stint of top five finishes in the FIA World Rally Championship by targeting another top result at next week’s Neste Oil Rally Finland.
The first half of the WRC season got off to a dream start for the Cumbria-based squad as Mads Østberg finished runner-up on his debut in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC – the team’s best ever result. The 23-year-old Norwegian has since reported his desire to challenge for a second podium for the M-Sport Stobart team during the season’s second half.
Several changes are planned for this year’s 61st anniversary of the “Finnish Grand Prix” including a remote service and a super special stage in Lahti on Friday. There will also be six new stages for this year’s rally which hosts the highest number of entries in a WRC event since 2000.
Fresh from their victory at the Auto24 Rally Estonia last weekend where they pipped five-time WRC event winner Markko Märtin to the finish, Mads Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson are feeling confident ahead of the eighth round of the WRC. The pair also signed with a new sponsor yesterday – NAS – who are a Norwegian automotive company.
Mads Østberg said; “Estonia was fantastic last weekend – not just because we took the victory but also because we tried several different set-ups and we found one that I am now very happy with. I am very pleased with how the rally went – it was a hard fight with Märtin, he was faster than us on the first day but we had good pacenotes. The rally has also prepared us nicely for Finland – we have worked hard to try to get back on the podium after Rally Sweden at the start of the season and now we want to get on the podium again. I think Finland could be a good opportunity for us and we really want a good result at this event – both for the championship and for our sponsors.”
Estonia proved itself as excellent preparation for Finland with the fast, flowing stages giving the crews a taste of what to expect when they take on one of the calendar’s classic rallies next week. The event also marked the Ford Fiesta RS WRC’s first victory outside the WRC – a fantastic achievement for the M-Sport Stobart duo who are looking to secure a second WRC podium this season.
Britain’s Matthew Wilson has proved his ability behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta RS WRC with two top five results already under his belt this season. The 24-year-old has been spending the summer break working on his fitness whilst also testing M-Sport’s new Ford Fiesta Regional Rally Car (RRC) – both in Cumbria and in Poland. Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin will be looking to further benefit from a test they have planned in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC over the weekend.
He said; “Finland is definitely one of my favourite rallies and it’s known as the “Finnish Grand Prix” for a good reason as the spectators and atmosphere is just incredible. I’m also relieved we’re doing a small test before this rally – it always helps to have some time in the car before the rally starts, especially in Finland as it is such a technical event and the speeds are so high. I’ve been there six times before so I’m in a better position than some of the other drivers – I definitely think Finland is a rally where experience really matters. The new stages this year will be an added difficulty but it’ll help shake things up a bit and I think it’s a good idea that the organisers add a few new stages as it helps to make it a fairer rally for everyone competing.”
Norway’s Henning Solberg spent the summer working with sponsors but also joined the voice cast of Disney Pixar’s Cars 2 movie alongside brother Petter Solberg. After a difficult start to the 2011 season, Solberg and co-driver Ilka Minor finished fifth in Greece and Solberg is now only four points behind Kimi Räikkönen in the WRC drivers’ standings.
Henry told us; “I’m feeling really positive after a good result in Greece and I’m looking forward to getting back to the WRC – Finland is one of the oldest events on the calendar and one of my favourite rallies. It’s got some of the fastest stages of the year and you need to be brave if you want to succeed but it’s not all about going flat-out, there’s some very technical sections too. I’ve spent the summer break working with sponsors and trying to ensure I will be here for the rest of the year, it’s looking likely now but I’ve still got a bit of work to do. I’m just really looking forward to getting back in the car and I just want to finish with a good result for my sponsors.”
Next week will be the 12th time that Solberg has contested Rally Finland and the driver’s best result is from 2006’s event when he finished fourth overall. As one of the most experienced WRC drivers in the field, the M-Sport Stobart driver will be looking to take advantage of his past knowledge of the Finnish roads in order to move ahead of Räikkönen in the overall leaderboard.
Evgeny Novikov is the final driver who will be driving under the M-Sport Stobart banner in Finland. The Russian earned a reputation during the first half of the season as a blisteringly quick driver, consistently chasing the WRC front-runners and setting a string of top three stage times.
Evgeny Novikov said; “The WRC has no easy stages and Finland is no exception – when you drive the forest roads for the first time you need very accurate pace notes and it is worth having some information beforehand. It’s important to know where to turn on the high speed and how to approach the jumps. This year my task is just to finish and no more than that. There is no doubt that the Finnish drivers have the huge advantage as they have grown up in this country and are used to driving these roads frequently. I know it will not be easy to compete with those guys but I like this event a lot – there are also a lot of fans from all around the world, particularly from Russia and I always appreciate the support from my home country.”
Novikov’s last outing at 2009’s Rally Finland made him a firm favourite with fans as he wowed crowds after he landed his car on its rear bumper and nearly flipped it during the well-known Leutsu stage. The 20-year-old later retired from the event but this year Novikov is aiming to finish the rally and to gain more experience in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC.