Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team drivers Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson face one of their toughest tests of the season as they aim to build on the foundations of their strong start to the year at the latest round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Cyprus Rally.

The rally is just 14 stages long, compared to 23 at Rally Norway, but those stages are expected to be some of the longest of this year’s championship and the drivers will spend around four and a half hours in the driving seat with the low average speed and high number of corners providing a stern test of their fitness.

Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin have picked up points in both rounds of the WRC so far this season with seventh-place finishes in Ireland and Norway and they will be looking to consolidate their position in the driver standings. The duo are well prepared for the challenging conditions having worked hard on their fitness ahead of this event.

Solberg is gunning for his first podium of the season after finishing just outside the top three in Norway last month. The Norwegian has a solid track record in the Cyprus Rally having finished fourth in 2005 and sixth a year later, the last time the race appeared on the WRC calendar.

But this time round the drivers are heading into uncharted waters in Cyprus, which is the only event this season to feature a mixture of surfaces. The rally is renowned for its demanding gravel stages but organisers have taken advantage of new FIA rules to create an added element of excitement with the opening day’s tests taking place on asphalt before moving on to gravel on the final two days of the event. With the same gravel specification tyres being used on both surfaces the race will provide an exceptional test for the teams and drivers.

The Ford Focus RS WRCs of the Stobart team will be using the hard compound Pirelli Scorpion tyre which is known to perform well on gravel throughout the rally. Tactical driving may come into play early on as drivers vie for the best road positions on the second day when later starters could benefit from cleaner roads and additional grip.

Rally organisers say that the unique format of the event will offer “exciting new challenges” for crews and expect other rally organisers around the world to have their eyes on the event with a view to putting more mixed-surface events on the WRC calendar in the future.

Based around the coastal resort of Limassol on the island’s south coast, teams will benefit from a new Service Park close to the seafront which will be more spacious and easily accessible than in previous years. The ceremonial start on Thursday evening in conjunction with a concert featuring one of Cyprus’ most popular pop singers is expected to attract a huge number of fans.

Then the real action begins on Friday with the first stage starting in Pano Panagia to the north west of Limassol for a challenging 30 kilometre opener.

Day two will see the drivers head to the north of Limassol and the mountainous Troodos region before heading back to Pano Panagia on Sunday for the rally's longest stage, the 40.54 kilometre Anadiou stage in the western Paphos district of the island.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford currently sit third in the WRC manufacturers standing, eight points clear of the Citroen Junior Rally Team and is the leading manufacturer team in the championship.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I think this rally will be a big challenge but I really enjoy these stages in Cyprus and I’m up for the challenge. It is good to see the organisers doing something different to spice up the event and I think we will see some tactical driving on the first day. Road position will be important as there aren’t many second passes over stages but for sure the long stages will provide a tough test. I’m confident though and will be aiming for a top-five, maybe even a podium if we can stay out of trouble and get a clean run.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“This rally will be something different for us and running on two different surfaces during one event is certainly a unique experience. The first day will be difficult, it’s quite long and we will be running in very alien conditions; I think there will also be some driving for preferential road position for day 2. I enjoyed this rally in 2006, the slow speeds make it totally different from most other rallies and it will be good to get onto the normal gravel stages on the second day. Fitness will also be important here, maybe not because of the usual high temperature but because of the long, slow stages.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Cyprus will pose a unique challenge that none of the Stobart drivers will have experienced before and it will throw a few unknowns into the equation. They will need to be careful and be mindful of having gravel set-up on asphalt stages; but at the same time it’s a good opportunity to consolidate their already strong championship positions. I think this will be the most difficult event to date this season and the long stages will provide a tough test for all crews.”

Event Information
Date: 13 – 15 March 2009
Round: 3 of 12, FIA World Rally Championship
Based: Limassol, Cyprus
Total distance: 332.07 km
Stage surface: asphalt/gravel
Number of stages: 14
Longest stage: SS13 Anadiou – 40.54 km
Central Service Park: Germasogeia, Limassol
Ceremonial Start: Palais des Sports, Limassol
Remote service: Anadiou Dam, Day 3 after SS12 Foini

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