Matthew Wilson focused on improving tarmac pace in France
Rallye de France - Preview
Stobart M-Sport Ford’s Matthew Wilson is feeling confident about scoring his best FIA World Rally Championship result of the year on asphalt at the newly located Rallye de France next weekend.
The 23-year-old Cumbrian has worked hard to improve the handling of his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on Tarmac this year. At Rally Bulgaria, the first all-Tarmac event of the season, Wilson finished ninth. However, at the next asphalt WRC round in Germany the Briton showed increased speed on a sealed surface to finish sixth overall.
This year’s event will move from the long-term home of Corsica to a new base in the Alsace region, close to the city of Strasbourg. Despite tackling twenty new stages, Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin are looking to produce their second top five finish of the season next week. With reports that the new stages are similar to Rallye Deutschland’s fast asphalt tests, Wilson will travel to France believing he can produce another strong performance.
Joining the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally team in the points-scoring line-up for the first time next week will be Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino.
Wilson’s regular WRC team-mates Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor will also be entered under the Stobart M-Sport Ford banner in France but will be back behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta Super 2000. The Norwegian driver will not be nominated to score any manufacturer points but will return to drive the Ford Focus RS WRC at Rally Wales GB in November.
Rallye de France was first held on the island of Corsica in 1956 and has been a round of the FIA World Rally Championship since the inaugural 1973 season. However, last year the long-established event was absent from 2009’s calendar as a result of the FIA’s event rotation system.
The event was originally run round the entire island, which earned the rally’s name “Tour de Corse”, but more recently it was held closer to the roads around Ajaccio and became known as “Ten Thousands Turns Rally” due to its twisty asphalt mountain stages.
In October 2009 France’s governing body of motorsport, the FFSA, took the decision to move the event from Corsica altogether to a new location in the Alsace region, near the German border and close to France’s ninth-biggest city Strasbourg.
The new location for the WRC event was formerly a French Championship round which was last run in May 2009 and is only one of two events this year which is eligible for all three WRC support championships: the J-WRC, P-WRC and S-WRC.
Next week’s Rallye de France will kick off with a ceremonial start at Place Kleber - the largest square in the centre of Strasbourg on Thursday 30 September, but the first full day of action will commence the following morning.
Friday consists of a repeat loop of four stages totaling 145.86 km based south-west of Strasbourg in the Haut-Rhin region. The opening stage, Hohlandsbourg (SS1 and SS5), is a 9.5 km test set up in the hills of the Vosges area which will be followed by a 16.9 km test in the famous Goldert vineyards (SS2 and SS6). Grand Ballon 1 (SS4 and SS8) is a 24.5 km stage which climbs to the Grand Ballon ski resort reaching 1424 m. Following SS4 will be a remote service at the city of Mulhouse before the Stobart crew tackle the repeat afternoon loop.
The second full day of action features eight stages covering 149.22 km which will be based south-west of the service park in the Bas-Rhin region. The crew will also have to tackle the longest stage of the rally on Saturday, the 35.48 km Pays d’Ormont (SS11 and SS15) which will challenge the WRC drivers with its varying road conditions.
The final day of Rallye de France will be based in the northern region of Alsace and features a repeat loop of a short city centre Super Special Stage over 4.20km (SS17 and SS20) followed by a longer 24.70 km stage. The repeat of the Super Special Stage will mark the rally’s final stage and will be held in the streets of Hagenau in homage to reigning WRC Sebastien Loeb, who previously lived there.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said: “It’s going to be really strange going to a French WRC round but not being based in Corsica – the island is all I ever associate this rally with so it’s taking a bit of getting used to! Judging the correct set-up could be tricky at this event as I’ve heard the stages are very mixed - some sections will be very fast and open but other parts are slow, tight and twisty with broken tarmac. I haven’t seen much footage yet but this is just what I’ve heard. As it is a brand new location, it’s also going to make the recce extremely important – we’ll have to make a new set of notes so there’s going to be a lot of pressure to ensure we get everything right. I’m feeling much more confident driving on asphalt now – we had a good result in Germany and some of the stages in Alsace sound quite similar to the Trier-based event so hopefully this will pay off when we go to France next week.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said: “This will be a tough event for everyone – a new rally location puts extra pressure on the crews as they have little time to get a feel for the roads. It also requires a great deal of concentration and it is vital the team are both mentally and physically prepared as much as possible for the event. Both Matthew and Scott have been working very hard this year with their trainer [Barry Johnson] who ensures that they are not only physically fit enough to compete in the WRC but that they are mentally capable of coping with the pressures of competing in the championship too. Matthew had an unfortunate previous round in Japan earlier this month but has steadily improved his performance driving on Tarmac this year so I look forward to seeing how he will perform next week in France.”
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