Stobart plan to prosper in Portugal
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team drivers Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson are both looking to pick up where they left off in the last round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Cyprus as they prepare for round four of the series, the Vodafone Rally de Portugal.

Solberg and Wilson are lying fourth and sixth respectively in the driver standings after putting in outstanding performances on both asphalt and gravel in Cyprus and are looking to continue that form on the Algarve gravel where they will tackle 361.36kms of competitive stages on the 43rd running of the Rally de Portugal.

After returning to the FIA World Rally Championship calendar in 2007 following a long absence the Rally de Portugal is again based in the Algarve in the south of the country with many of the stages taking place in the hilly Baixo Alentejo area inland from the coastal town of Vilamoura.

All three rounds of the championship so far have been affected by weather giving some drivers with better road position an advantage. But, with mild weather expected, the Rally de Portugal should provide a level playing field for most drivers regardless of their starting position.

Wilson finished 12th on his only previous visit to the Rally de Portugal in 2007 when a final-day time penalty pushed him down the field. But with few changes to the stages used on the rally two years ago the young Briton, partnered by co-driver Scott Martin, is planning to use that experience to post some respectable times.

His confidence is high after taking his first full stage win on the final day of the Cyprus Rally and a good result in Portugal could move him up to fifth in the driver standings, his highest ever position in the rankings.

Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud finished in 11th place on their last outing in Portugal two years ago after suffering the same time penalty as their team mate. The Norwegians will be hoping to eradicate the memory of their disastrous start to the Cyprus Rally, where they collided with a non-competing vehicle on the way to the first stage, by continuing the speed set on the final day in Cyprus where Solberg outpaced the leaders on several of the closing stages.

Rally de Portugal has traditionally attracted a huge number of fanatical spectators out on the rally stages and those numbers will be boosted on Thursday night as the rally gets underway with a spectacular 2.2km Super Special stage in the Algarve Stadium.

It’s expected to attract more than 20,000 fans to cheer on the drivers as they race side by side on a specially designed track. Spectators will have an action feast with 75 crews registered to take the start; the highest entry for a WRC event so far this season.

The rally then heads north of the Service Area at the Algarve Stadium into the hills of the Baixo Alentejo as day one gets underway on Friday with the 23.43km SS2 Ourique stage.

Day two features the longest stage of the weekend, the 27.18km Almodovar test, and drivers are expected to face loose gravel and rocky conditions; testing the Pirelli Scorpion tyres which have stood up well to everything thrown at them so far this year.

The final day features the highest stage of the rally, SS14 Loule, where the cars will reach an altitude of 350 metres before heading back to the Algarve Stadium for a final Super Special stage.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It is great to be going back to Portugal as I really enjoyed it there in 2007, the stages are enjoyable but also quite challenging. Hopefully most of the stages will be quite similar to those that we learnt two years ago and we can use that knowledge to good effect right from the start. We finished really well in Cyprus and I hope that we can start in Portugal somewhere near that pace and basically continue where we left off. If it is dry there then grip should be good but if it does rain then that can make it really difficult on some of the stages so I’m hoping that it stays dry; the consistent grip levels always help with confidence.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I can’t wait to get started in Portugal. After the accident in Cyprus it feels like this is the first gravel rally of the year so I’m concentrating on putting in a good performance and hopefully we can challenge for a top-five result. I was encouraged by our times in Cyprus, we made some really good progress with some settings and the car felt much better on the last two days. Hopefully we can put these improvements to good use next week. I remember the roads in Portugal being quite fast and difficult to get exactly right, but I am always up for the challenge.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“The team has started strongly this season and we are hoping to continue that form in Portugal. Matthew is coming into this rally off the back of an excellent result in Cyprus, his confidence is high, and I think that will help him settle into this event quickly. Both Henning and Matthew have demonstrated an increased level of experience this season and that will be put to good use in Portugal where the fast and demanding stages can easily catch out an unwary driver. Hopefully they can both produce another good performance to strengthen their already impressive positions in the drivers’ championship.”

Event Information
Date: 2 – 5 April 2009
Round: 4 of 12, FIA World Rally Championship
Based: Faro, Portugal
Total distance: 361.36 km
Stage surface: gravel
Number of stages: 18
Longest stage: SS9/SS12 Almodovar – 27.18 km
Central Service Park: Algarve Stadium

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