Stobart gears up for season opening spectacle:

New crews, new colours and a new challenge for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team as they head to Rallye Monte-Carlo for the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship’s season opener.

This becomes the third season in which the Stobart outfit will contest the WRC as a privately-backed manufacturer team. Nominated to score points in Monte-Carlo is newly signed Italian star Gigi Galli and his co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini while François Duval/Eddy Chevaillier step into the fourth position in the Stobart camp, for this event, as the second nominated point scorers.

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud will again contest the event for the Stobart team, however, not as nominated point scorers on this occasion. Despite his illustrious career in the WRC which has earned the Norwegian over 50 WRC starts this will be just his third attempt at the dual-nation event.

Also continuing his quest with the team is British rally sensation Matthew Wilson who has been reunited with fellow countryman Scott Martin for the 2008 season. This will also be Wilson’s third attempt at Rallye Monte-Carlo as the 20-year-old looks to improve on his solid effort from last year’s event where he finished top-placed Stobart driver.

This year the event has reverted back to traditional stomping ground, for the fourth and final day on Sunday, in the hills surrounding Monaco. The final 2.7 kilometre test will be a circuit around the Monaco precinct which visually is one of the most spectacular stages on tour as it runs alongside the famous Monaco harbour covering many sections of the Formula1 track.

Weather conditions are set to play a huge role with expected snow likely, less than one week from competition. Competitors can expect the challenge of snow, ice, wet and dry tarmac all on a single stage as each team bolts on a set of new Pirelli tyres; the Italian company supplying rubber in 2008 as part of the FIA’s newly-formed controlled tyre regulations.

Crews will launch into competition on Thursday night as they take on day 1 in complete darkness. The event will then continue from its Valence base, some 400 kilometres from Monte-Carlo, until Sunday when it will return south for conclusion. In total Rallye Monte-Carlo will offer some 365 kilometres of competitive distance.

For all 15 rounds of this year’s championship each Stobart crew will use the latest specification Ford Focus RS WRC07 car as the team looks to improve on their fantastic result from 2007 which saw three podium finishes and three events as overall leaders.

This Sunday sees the official unveiling of the all-new green and blue livery which is sure to turn heads come stage 1 of Rallye Monte-Carlo next Thursday evening. The unveiling will be made at the WRC’s official 2008 launch at the Automobile Club de Monaco.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Gigi Galli said:
“Coming into this event I feel a bit “rusty” because in the last few months the only thing I’ve been driving is a digger I used to finish my mother’s house, it’s been fun but nothing to do with WRC cars! Joking apart I believe it’ll take a little time to find the right feeling with the car and the right pace again but then when we find the right feeling we will increase our pace and we’ll adjust our targets. Rallye Monte-Carlo is renowned for sudden changing conditions and being the first round of the season it keeps pressure on drivers quite high. Driving a car that won the last two manufacturers’ titles make us proud. We are also proud to be part of a team that, despite being young, has done very well already. I’m really looking forward to working with the team and it will be great to be part of such an impressive set-up.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver François Duval said:
“I am happy to be back in a world rally car on a WRC event as this will be my first event since Corsica last year. It is also good to be back in a Ford Focus WRC which, in the past, has brought me some good results. The last time I competed on Monte-Carlo was in 2006 where some of the route was similar to this year especially on Sunday so I think this will help a bit.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Henning Solberg said:
“I am ready for this rally, we will be trying our best here. My plan is to start with the same pace as in Ireland last year and then go from there. We will also go with the same set-up as we had in Ireland because I really liked it and the car felt good. I’m looking forward to driving the new 07 Focus but my experience of the roads in Monte-Carlo is not great because this is only my third time here. It will be great if there is some snow on the roads, the more the better for me. We will go out there and see what sort of pace we have from the start but hopefully by the end of the rally I can finish in the points to start off the season.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Matthew Wilson said:
“Well it’s a new year, new car and a new co-driver and I’m looking forward to getting things underway in Monte-Carlo. For me this event will be more of a lesson as I get used to the 07 Focus and Scott [Martin] reading the notes. It’s not the easiest rally in the world so we’ll be looking to get round without any problems and have a decent finish with a straight car before getting on to Sweden which is an event I really enjoy. Sunday will be a difficult day as I have only covered these stages once in 2006 but it’s great to see the traditional tests back on rally route. This event will be a challenge but I just can’t wait to get back in the car and start the season off.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s really exciting to see the Stobart team with such a strong line-up for their first event with both Gigi and François nominated for points. The team is further strengthened by Henning and Matthew who both put in strong performances on their last tarmac event in Ireland. This will be the first time the team competes with its striking new livery and it is also the first occasion where three Stobart liveried cars have competed on a round of the World Championship.”

Event Information

Date: 24-27 January 2008
Round: 1 of 15 FIA World Rally Championship
Based: Valence, France
Stage surface: Asphalt
Total distance: 1481.25km (365 competitive)
Number of stages: 20
Longest stage: 29.52km (stage 3 & 6)
Official Start: 17:30 Thursday 24 January at Kisoque Peynet,Valence

Bron: Stobartmotorsport.

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