The Stobart VK M-Sport team will reach the first important milestone in its four-year history when the Wales Rally GB gets underway next week as they prepare for their 50th event with a formidable seven-strong driver line-up.
Since their low-profile debut in 2005, the Ford 'B-team' has made significant gains over the years to the point that they head into the final round of the 2008 season looking to get on the podium.
Leading their charge will be nominated drivers Francois Duval and Matthew Wilson. Duval comes to the event with a new co-driver in the form of the experienced Denis Giraudet, the Frenchman replacing Patrick Pivato who was injured in a crash in Japan.
However, it has been two years since Duval last competed on the rally, while the combination of a new co-driver means he is placing additional emphasis on the pre-event recce.
“I'm looking forward to returning to Rally GB because I have had some good results here in the past,” he said. “Denis has come in as my replacement co-driver for this rally and I am very thankful to him for this gesture because I think it will help my confidence a lot in my first rally since Japan.
“I am going to head to the first stage and take it step by step from there. This rally can be very difficult especially if the conditions turn bad and this can have a big influence on the results. I think with the new stages on Friday and the fact I have not done this event since 2006, that it will be very important to get a good set of notes from recce.”
Wilson, meanwhile, is confident of a strong performance on home soil as he looks to bring a vastly improved season to a satisfying close. The young Brit prevailed in a tussle with Chris Atkinson to finish sixth last season, a result he is keen to repeat.
“The plan for GB is to go as quick as possible from the start and try and match the result from last year, if not better it. It is interesting to have some new stages on the Friday and this will spice things up a bit for the opening day.”
In addition to Duval and Wilson, Stobart will also be represented by a varied combination of drivers for this event. Henning Solberg will return to the team following his foray with the Argentine Munchi's team, while Barry Clark, Steve Perez and Dave Weston will also fly the Stobart flag in Wales.
Perhaps most significant though is the appearance of MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi, who will make his third WRC start driving a Focus WRC RS. He will race a Children in Need backed car.