Ford rally boss Malcolm Wilson is tipping MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi to take to his first WRC top ten finish in the forthcoming Wales Rally GB, when the Italian will be driving a Stobart-backed Ford Focus and supporting the BBC's Children In Need charity.
Rossi - who recently finished second in a Focus WRC car on the asphalt-based Monza Rally, then set a creditable pace in a Ferrari F1 car - has competed in the World Rally Championship twice to date.
The six-time MotoGP world champion made his WRC debut in the 2002 edition of Rally GB, but crashed his Michelin-backed Peugeot 206 WRC after just 17 kilometres of the first forest stage.
His WRC return in New Zealand four years later (pictured) was much more successful, The Doctor steering a Subaru Impreza WRC from 24th, to 13th and then 11th over the three days, setting a best stage time of seventh in the process.
Wilson, managing director of M-Sport - which runs the official BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRC team as well as the satellite Stobart outfit - believes that The Doctor could better that overall result come the finish of the 'RAC' on December 7.
"It is fantastic [that Valentino will be competing in a Ford on Rally GB]. We are really delighted about the fact that we have got Valentino in a Stobart car. He did the Monza Rally recently and finished second overall and really acquitted himself very, very well with the car," Wilson told Crash.net Radio
"He would have probably had won the rally, but he had a spin which cost him about 30 seconds and I think he lost the rally by about 20.
"Certainly from what we have seen from the testing up here he is very committed. He has got fantastic understanding of the car. It will be difficult for him given what the conditions could be like. But if it is dry and consistent I think he could definitely be a potential top-ten finisher."
Pressed on if he might be able to sneak into the top-eight and score a point, Wilson reiterated that it will all depend on the notoriously fickle Welsh weather, which could throw just about anything at the 86 competitors, 22 of whom will be in WRC class cars.
"As I said, I think if the conditions are consistent and dry he can definitely squeeze into the top-ten. If it is wet, slippery and tricky then as we all know anything can happen," Wilson added.
"But he is certainly very committed to it and he definitely wants to achieve a good result. I know he wants to better the place he got in New Zealand [in 2006 - when he finished eleventh overall]. That is obviously top-ten and if he can do that I think it would be a remarkable result bearing in mind the competition that is going to be there."
Rossi starts his final MotoGP test of 2008 at Jerez in Spain tomorrow (Wednesday).
by Rob Wilkins