Duval dashes in for Stobart’s NZ challenge
Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin and François Duval/Patrick Pivato will head to the southern hemisphere for round 11 of the FIA World Rally Championship next week; Repco Rally New Zealand. With regular Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team member Gigi Galli sidelined after last week’s accident in Germany, Duval has been called up for the NZ event after his impressive third place result on the German stages.

Usually a team may only change one element of its submitted entry for an event but due to the obvious safety issue brought about by a language barrier, the FIA granted permission for the team to use Duval, and regular co-driver Pivato, to replace Galli and co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini.

Historically speaking the Stobart brand has always travelled well in the Land of the Long White Cloud with last year’s event seeing all three crews finish inside the top-ten. 2007 was also a record year for the closest winning rally margin when Marcus Grönholm defeated Sebestien Loeb by the narrowest of gaps; 0.3 seconds.

Of the two Stobart drivers Duval comes in as the most experienced with three New Zealand rallies under his belt. The Belgian has had mixed fortunes since his first event in 2003 but his most promising came on his last attempt in 2005 when he finished fourth overall.For Wilson this will be his third start at Rally New Zealand with the youngster’s best ever result coming last year when he finished 10th. The 21-year-old has always shown good improvements in pace on this event and will be looking to continue this form after his promotion to a nominated points scorer for the team.

Rally New Zealand is a feature rally on the WRC calendar and this 29th edition of the event as a WRC round is shaping up to be one of the greatest yet. No fewer than 14 world rally cars have entered the event this year.

Considered a drivers’ favourite, the rally is characterised by its fast, flowing and perfectly cambered roads which give the impression the cars are dancing as they hammer through the countryside of New Zealand’s north island. In the past, average speeds of well over 100kph have been the benchmark to win the event and it’s these exciting elements that make it a true favourite with competitors.Crews will travel 354.58 kilometres of competitive stage distance over 16 demanding stages based around the event’s headquarters in Hamilton. This year again sees stages run in the Raglan region and along the western coastline of the north island which offer spectators some of the most picturesque scenery in the world. After a successful event on the Pirelli PZero in Germany last week where they picked up their 150th WRC victory, the tyre manufacturer will be providing the Stobart squad with the Scorpion gravel tyre for New Zealand.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver François Duval said:
“I haven’t competed in New Zealand for two years so it will be difficult going back there with some new stages and knowing most of the other competitors have the advantage of experience on the roads. But I know that the Ford Focus is a fantastic car on gravel and that is a good feeling for me; I am confident that I will be able to a find a comfortable setting with it quite soon. It is also a benefit to have spent time in the car just last week. My plan for the rally is firstly to try and finish in the points and if the confidence is good then maybe I will be able to increase the speed.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“This is probably my favourite event so I’m really looking forward to it and getting back on gravel after Germany. We are also nominated to score points on what is one of my stronger events so hopefully we can help the Stobart team out in New Zealand. I like the nature of the stages and the camber of the corners plus the high speeds which give the event a Finland sort of feel. I have heard reports of quite bad weather recently in Hamilton so it will be interesting to see how the stages hold up once we are out there.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“New Zealand is a classic event and certainly one of the drivers’ favourites. I know Matthew likes the surface and the characteristics of the roads so it will be a good chance for him to put what he has learnt in Finland to good use, now that he is nominated for points for the Stobart team. François brings a wealth of experience to the squad and we can see that, after his great result in Germany last week, he is getting much more familiar with the car. He has proved his pace on fast gravel before so I think we have a solid pairing here to pick up a strong points haul for the Stobart team.”

Event Information
Date: 29-31 August 2008
Round: 11 of 15 FIA World Rally Championship
Based: Hamilton, New Zealand
Stage surface: Gravel
Total stage distance: 354.58 km
Number of stages: 16
Longest stage: Waitomo at 43.98km (SS2 & 4)
Central Service Park: Mystery Creek Events Centre

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