Portuguese pressure mounts for FSTi contenders
The 2009 Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) series gets underway next week as the competition joins the FIA World Rally Championship for the fourth successive year kicking off the first of six rounds at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal. This will be the second time that FSTi has visited Portugal, the last time being in 2007 when FSTi champion Barry Clark raised the bar to finish a record-breaking 25th in the overall classification.

The series, run by M-Sport with support from Pirelli, will again run alongside the WRC returning to Rally d’Italia Sardegna, Neste Oil Rally Finland, Rally de España and Wales Rally GB for an early finish in October. The third event, Rally Poland, is a new addition to both the WRC and FSTi.

In a change to previous years, of the six counting rounds, the best points from the four rounds will count towards the championship standings. This will allow those drivers who have completed the full season to drop any low scores, but will also assist those drivers who are only able to compete on an event-by-event basis to score highly overall if they achieve good results on occasional rallies.

A new scoring system will also be introduced in order to reward outright pace. One point will be awarded for every stage win and, with between 18 and 24 stages per rally, these will be points worth fighting for. A win will still be given maximum credit and points will be offered 30-25-22-20-18-16-14-12-11-10 for first to tenth position.

The prize for the championship winner will be an all-expenses-paid test in the latest specification Ford Focus RS WRC with Ford factory driver Mikko Hirvonen, with the chance to discuss the test over dinner with the flying Finn and M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson. A prize fund has also been introduced and the winner of each rally will receive a €1,500 M-Sport voucher.

There is also the chance for those who support the series by entering at least four events to test the Ford Focus WRC in addition. As in previous years, the series winner plus one ‘wildcard’ will be put forward to the FST International Shootout to compete against drivers from other FST championships around the world in order to win a year’s residential contract to work at M-Sport with the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team.

The opening rally of the series has attracted six competitors from four different countries who will compete on 18 stages over 361 kilometres of gravel in Ford Fiesta ST GpN cars. As well as the regular stages the competitors will also experience the thrill of a packed Super Special, in front of an audience of thousands in the Algarve Stadium.

Following in the footsteps of 2008 champions Castrol Ford Team Turkiye, Team Abu Dhabi have mobilised a three-car assault on the 2009 series to reinforce Abu Dhabi’s support for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team and to launch the Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team in to the WRC.

Majed Al Shamsi (28) undertook his first rally in Lebanon last year, winning the Fiesta class and will be hoping to repeat that performance as he teams up with Irish co-driver Allan Harryman.

His fellow Emirati, Bader Al Jabri (24), also began his rally career in 2008 and has had a successful start to the year winning the N3 class at the Qatar International Rally in February. He teams up with Irishman Steve McAuley as co-driver.

The newest addition to the Abu Dhabi Junior team is Ahmed Al Mansoori. The 21-year-old competed in his first rally this year at the Kuwait International Rally and will be looking to gain valuable rally experience as he takes part in the FSTi with Irish co-driver Killian Duffy (26).

Returning to the competition for a second season are Russians Denis Grodetskiy and co-driver Safoniy Lotko. The Russian duo are the most experienced of the FSTi crews, having taken two stage wins in the four rallies they entered last season. They will be looking to build on that foundation to score some serious points in this year’s championship.

For Germany's Patrick Anglade, Rally de Portugal will be his first gravel rally; despite having entered Ralllye Deutschland in 2007 and 2008, the 21-year-old engineering student from Losheim has only ever rallied on Tarmac. Anglade’s Fiesta is being run by the I-Cars team, who tested the young German in the Fiesta for the first time in Wales in early March. Anglade is just one of two German drivers undertaking a WRC programme in 2009 and he is aware just how much responsibility that entails and that his first WRC event will present many new challenges for both himself and co-driver Björn Röhm (29).

Irish teenager Craig Breen (19) is currently lying second in the Fiesta SportTrophy Ireland championship and is expected to be a strong contender in the Kick Energy Fiesta SportTrophy in the UK. Portugal will be his first experience of a WRC event, but as former All Ireland Kart Champion in 2007, he is well place to offer strong competition.

The drivers will get their first taste of what it means to be a member of the Ford family when the FSTi teams will be launched to the world’s media in Portugal on Wednesday 1 April, with the rally then commencing on Thursday evening for the first Super Special Stage in the Algarve Stadium.

M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson said:
“I am delighted to see the Fiesta SportTrophy International series return for its fourth season and that there continues to be strong interest in the competition from around the world. FSTi has become a strong proving ground for young rally drivers and can provide an excellent stepping stone to the top level of the sport. Last year, the top two drivers entered the final round with just one point between them; let’s hope for more of the same this year!”

2009 FSTi calendar


3-5 April
Vodafone Rally de Portugal

22-24 May
Rally d’Italia Sardegna

26-28 June
Rally Poland

31 July-2 August
Neste Oil Rally Finland

2-4 October
Rallye de España

23-25 October
Wales Rally GB

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