Ross Forde is gearing-up for the opening round of the Fiesta SportTrophy, the Malcolm Wilson Rally, next weekend as he gets his 2009 campaign underway.

Forde is contesting a full season in the series this year in his Motorsport Ireland and Irish Sports Council-backed M-Sport-run Ford Fiesta as his prize for winning the 2008 Billy Coleman Award.

The 25-year-old will be joined by experienced co-driver Rob Fagg as his regular navigator, younger brother Arron, could not commit to the weekend.

The pair warmed-up for the forthcoming event by contesting last weekend's Nenagh-based Birr Stages Rally and it was not just the first time the crew sat together in a car but it was also Forde's debut behind the wheel of a Fiesta.

Unfortunately they failed to finish due to a mechanical problem but over the next week Forde will be spending time testing ahead of the 45-mile Cumbrian event.

"I'm really looking forward to the opening round and to getting back out onto the gravel," Forde said. "Although it's an event I've never done before I'm feeling pretty confident and just want to begin the season well with a good result. It's going to be tough as there's a lot of good drivers in the series but we'll be trying hard from the off.

"I got a bit used to the Fiesta on the Birr Stages although the mechanical problems meant I didn't get a full feel to it. Rob and I got on well and I'm pleased he's on board for the event."