Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Henning Solberg is gunning for victory at his home round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Norway.
The snow rally specialist warmed up for the freezing-cold event by scoring his best-ever result on asphalt, finishing fourth overall at Rally Ireland last weekend. The Norwegian’s outstanding performance suggests he is on the sort of form that could see him challenge for a podium spot on his favoured surface next weekend.
Solberg has a good record at Rally Norway in previous years, finishing third in the 2007 event as the Stobart squad enjoyed its most successful outing in the WRC. The former Stobart crew of Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila came home in fifth on the same rally to secure the best result to date for the Cumbrian squad. Interest in Solberg’s performance at the event will be at an all-time high in Norway, and with rally fans across the globe, as he faces off against his brother and former world champion Petter. Petter will be making his first appearance of 2009 in the WRC, and both of the Solberg boys will be looking forward to putting on a show for fans on their favourite stages.
Urmo Aava/Kuldar Sikk will also be confident of turning in a good performance when they hit the snow-bound stages in Norway. Having led Rally Ireland before an off cost them their shot at a podium, they demonstrated they would need little time to find the pace in the Ford Focus RS WRC. They have also tasted success in Norway earlier in their career, finishing third in the JWRC there in 2007.
Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin will look to build on their steady performance in the first round when they travel to Scandinavia next week. They will join their team-mates on a pre-event Stobart test in Norway prior to the event, which should give them a valuable insight into the conditions they will face when they take to the stages seeking to add to their world championship points haul.
Rally Norway is one of the most spectacular events on the WRC calendar and is the only true snow rally of the season. Based mainly in and around the city of Hamar, the service park is housed inside the “The Viking Ship” Olympic Hall. Competitors will tackle around 375km of competitive stages, kicking off with a Super Special Stage in the middle of the capital city of Norway, Oslo, on Thursday evening as part of the Ceremonial Start proceedings. The event will then move north and east of Hamar, with a remote service in Kongsvinger on Friday, and take in stages around Lillehammer that feature the arenas used at the Winter Olympics as a backdrop.
Event organisers have described the conditions that will greet competitors on the stages as “just perfect” for a snow rally – with three to four foot snow banks already in place at the side of stage routes. In order to cope with the extreme conditions the Ford Focus RS WRCs of the Stobart team will be shod with the new Pirelli Sottozero control snow tyre. The skinny, studded tyres used in previous years have been replaced with a wider, more cost-effective option, brandishing nearly 400 tungsten-tipped metal studs to give crews maximum traction on the snow and ice-covered stages.
The Stobart team have nominated Solberg and Aava as its nominated point scorers for Rally Norway.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“This is the event I have been looking forward to for quite a while now. We had a really good run in Ireland last weekend and I have taken a lot of confidence from that so hopefully we will be able to come away with a good result on my home event; top-three would be great. Everyone is talking about the big battle with Petter but I’m not worrying about him, I just want to go as fast as I can for as long as I can. I know the stages reasonably well, they are in really good shape, and I think this will be a great rally; really exciting for all the Norwegian fans and a great chance to show Expert and Stobart what I can do.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Urmo Aava said:
“We have had a decent start to the season and I’m really looking forward to Norway. I have competed there before and enjoyed the stages and I hear they are in great condition for next week. We have a test before the recce so that will definitely help get a good feeling with the new snow tyres and hopefully help my confidence going into this event. The speeds will be high so it will be important to get a good recce and hopefully not make any silly mistakes during the rally this time.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“I really enjoy snow rallies, they are a unique experience, and I can’t wait to start in Norway. I’ve seen some photos of the stages and they look to be in fantastic condition. The only unknown factor will be the new tyres, but we’ve heard good reports from previous tests and I will get a chance to try them when we have our own test on Monday. We started well in Ireland and now the emphasis for me is to continue to collect driver points and build upon our consistent performances.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“I believe that Norway will be a fantastic opportunity for the Stobart team to collect another podium and bag some valuable manufacturer points. Henning has proved his speed here in the past and he has learnt a lot since the last running of this event; so a top-three for him is definitely not out of the question. Urmo and Matthew are also reasonably comfortable on this surface and they are both focused on a solid result. This could be a good chance for Stobart crews to prove their speed against the top manufacturer drivers.”
Date: 13-15 February 2009
Round: 2 of 12, FIA World Rally Championship
Based: Hamar, Norway (120km north of Oslo)
Stage surface: Snow and ice-covered gravel
Total stage distance: 375.4 kilometres
Number of stages: 23
Longest stage: SS18 Valer – 30.03 kilometres
Central Service Park: The Viking Ship, Hamar