Stobart search for success in Sapporo

Stobart search for success in SapporoFrom Stobart Ford Press [ 29/10/2008 ].
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An all-new location will play host to this year’s penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship as crews head to Sapporo for next week’s Rally Japan. The event will see the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team field two entrants – Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin and François Duval/Patrick Pivato – in the land of the rising sun.

After a firm display on the past two WRC events the team will look to add to their manufacturer points tally as they are rejoined by Duval for the final two rallies of the year. The Belgian has had mixed fortunes on his two attempts at Rally Japan, last contesting the event in 2005 where he finished fourth overall.

However, Duval is starting in Japan after two fantastic results on the last two events, including a podium in Corsica, and the 27-year-old will be looking to bank on his recent experience behind the wheel of the Ford Focus RS WRC and turn it into more results.

For Wilson this is a rally of fond memories as it remains the place of his finest WRC result to-date when he scored a fourth place finish last season. With the 21-year-old sitting on the verge of a top-ten finish in the WRC Drivers’ Championship a strong points result here would be the ideal scenario for the Brit.

2006 also saw a solid performance from Wilson in Japan which included several top-ten fastest stage times on his first trip to the Asian continent. After a superb final day performance on his last gravel event in New Zealand the youngster will be looking to further his abilities on the slippery surface ahead of his home event, Wales Rally GB, in December.

This year Rally Japan moves to an all-new arena in the city of Sapporo – Japan’s fifth largest and the capital of the north island, Hokkaidô. Stages will be brand new for all WRC crews as no fewer than 29 are run over three days of competition covering a total of 343.69 kilometres of competitive distance.

Despite its large number of stages the event is quite compact this year with no remote service or excessively long road sections. Event headquarters will be based in the Sapporo Dome with the rally holding five passes over a 1.49 kilometre super special which is to be run inside the stadium. It has a maximum seating capacity of over 40,000 and hosted three games during the 2002 Soccer World Cup.

Unlike the previous two WRC events the all crews have to run on identical soft-compound Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyres which could prove to be a key player as teams venture into unchartered territory for the first time in Sapporo.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver François Duval said:
“It is not going to be easy for me to go fast from the start in Japan because the last time I was here was three years ago but OK this year the rally is in a new location which means new roads, and pace-notes, for everybody. It took some time for me to find a good setup with the Focus in New Zealand but now I have the gravel kilometres on board from that event we can hopefully transfer the knowledge into speed next week in Japan. There are some big fights for the top places in the championship right now so these guys will be hard to match but hopefully by the end of the rally I will be pushing for a podium like on the last two events in Spain and Corsica.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“Things are going to be quite interesting this year in Japan coming to a new place where it’s new stages and potentially a new surface for everybody. From some pictures I have seen of the roads it looks like they are going to be quite narrow so it could be a challenging event next week. I’m looking forward to it though, last year we had a clean run and a great result and hopefully we can do the same again this year. Again thought it will be a challenge and we are going to have to write fresh pacenotes for all the stages and I think this will be a part of everyone’s approach to the rally that is going to be crucial.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“The Stobart team come into this event with both crews fresh from good manufacturer and driver points finishes in Corsica two weeks ago. This puts the team in a confident position coming into a rally which is new for everybody. On the final day of the last gravel event in New Zealand Matthew put in one of his best drives to date and hopefully he can carry this form forward into Japan. François has done a fantastic job for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team over the last two events and he will rejoin the Stobart team off the back of a fine podium finish in Corsica.”