From Ford Press [ 26/05/2008 ].
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Next week the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team take on the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally of Greece. The seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship will see Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud return to the squad as a nominated points scoring crew.
Joining the pair as the second nominated points scorers will be Italians Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini fresh from their fourth place finish in Sardinia last week. Brits Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin round off the terrific trio of Stobart crews as they embark on one of the most demanding and toughest rounds in the championship.
The team’s goal for the event is to again close the gap to Subaru in the Manufacturers’ Championship as they lurk just eight points behind the third placed Japanese outfit. Galli has also closed the gap to just four points on fifth place in the Drivers’ Championship and will be looking for another strong points haul for his championship campaign.
For all three Stobart crews Greece has been a prosperous outing in the past. Competing in both 2006 and 2007, Wilson posted a strong top-ten result on both occasions and he now looks to move one step further and finish with drivers’ points under his belt in 2008.
For the past two years Solberg has managed some fine results finishing fifth in both years, most recently in a Stobart entered Ford Focus RS WRC in 2007. The Norwegian has set a top-five target again this year.
This will be Galli’s third attempt at the Greek event which is also a place he has scored well finishing seventh back in 2005 when he last competed here. Coming off his fine result from Sardinia he will be looking to continue with his electric gravel form displayed on the last two events.
This year the event has moved north of the country’s capital Athens, to the Tatoi military airport grounds. The majority of the 20 special stages will be similar to last year’s route which offered high levels of access to the large spectator numbers that flock to the event. The only all-new special stages for 2008 are Psatha (stages 3 and 6) which was last seen run in 2006 and the brand new 4.6 kilometre Tatoi super special stage adjacent to the Service Park.
Certainly one of the hottest tests all year Greece is renowned for its tremendously rough and rocky conditions which have claimed the result of many in the past. Humid air temperatures run well into the high 30’s causing oven-like temperatures in the cockpit of these world rally cars. The Acropolis event is set to be the toughest test yet for the Pirelli Scorpion tyre which has so far stood up to every blow this season.
This year’s ceremonial start sees a return to the ancient monument site of the Acropolis which was formally proclaimed as the pre-eminent monument on the European Cultural Heritage list. After this send-off, crews will gear-up for a Friday morning start and the first of 339.94 competitive kilometres of Greek gravel action.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
“I am looking forward to the Greece Rally as we found a good level of consistency in Sardinia and hopefully it will be possible to keep this going. Although I haven’t competed in this event for a few years, we did the recce for the last two years and so have a good understanding of the stages and the rocky conditions. Even so it is still sure to be a tough event, the stages are rough and demanding and I expect the temperatures to be hotter than in Sardinia. It’s definitely going to be a hard test for the car, crew and the Pirelli tyres, but I’m confident we are all up to the challenge.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“I like the rough conditions on this rally and generally enjoy the event; it is very challenging. We didn’t have a good event in Sardinia and we plan to improve on that pace. The good thing about the next two rallies is that they are close together. Because we don’t get testing it takes a while for me to settle into a good rhythm at the start of a rally but with events close together it means we can be faster right from the start. So my confidence is better for this rally and I am aiming for a top-five finish. That would be good and would give me some more important points for the championship.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“Sardinia wasn’t the greatest event for us so in Greece we will look to improve and get back to the pace we had on previous gravel rallies this year. The route it is not much different to last year which is going to be good for us. Greece is a hot rally where our training will be a big benefit especially on some of the longer stages. Hopefully the weather will stay warm and dry so we can get a good consistent feeling with the tyres. Sardinia was hard to get a good feeling with the changing conditions but fortunately we never incurred any punctures. I’m looking forward to rolling over the start ramp at the Acropolis – it is going to be quite some sight.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“The Stobart team have put in some fantastic drives over the last couple of events to close the gap to Subaru in the manufacturers’ championship and I think in Greece the plan is basically to try and do the same. All our drivers finished in Sardinia without any problems and I think this was important as it will give them good confidence for the event next week. Gigi has found a strong, consistent pace now and I’m excited to see if this can translate into another fine result on this tough event. This rally, as always, will demand a lot from the drivers and cars and I’m confident that we are all up to the job.”