PRO DIARIES – MATTHEW WILSON – STOBART M-SPORT FORD RALLY TEAM

  • DEC 9, 2010
  • CATEGORY:
  • WRITTEN BY: Aaron Thomas
Name: Matthew Wilson
Occupation: FIA World Rally Championship Driver
Age 23
Honours: Argentina 2007 Youngest ever WRC stage winner and to score a drivers’ point
2005- Present Five full years competing in the FIA World Rally Championship
Japan 2007 Fourth in Rally – Wilson’s best ever WRC finish
2007 Dutch Freestyle Open 3rd Place – 1st – Best Technical Trick
2005 Youngest ever winner of a British Rally Championship (BRC) winning the Trackrod Rally aged 18

Matthew Wilson is Britain’s leading FIA World Rally Championship driver. The 23-year-old from Cumbria drives a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car for the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team.

Hi Matthew, Thanks for talking to us today. So, how long have you been Rally Driving and how did you get into the sport?

Hi no problem, I took part in my first ever rally in 2003 when I acted as co-driver for my Dad (Malcolm Wilson), but 12 months later I was lucky enough to be behind the wheel of a rally car myself. In 2004, I competed in the British Rally Championship (BRC) and finished third overall. In the same year I also made my debut in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and finished 13th at Wales Rally GB. In 2006, I moved up to compete in the WRC, driving on behalf of the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team and I’ve now just completed my fifth year.

What have you been up to this year? Have you been in many competitions?

This year I’ve been competing in the WRC for the fifth year running with the Stobart M-Sport Rally Team and we’ve contested 13 rallies across the globe, including New Zealand and Japan. Each rally is very different and we’ve experienced all sorts of different conditions, ranging from the ice and snow of Scandinavia to the stifling heat of Jordan – over surfaces including packed ice, smooth asphalt and boulder-strewn rocky tracks.

The WRC season usually runs from February to November and there’s normally only two weeks between each event, so it’s been another hectic year. Scott Martin (Matthew’s co-driver) and I did manage to fit in time to do a charity cycle ride in Corsica this summer in aid of the RPJ Crohn’s Foundation, where we cycled 1000km in seven days. Fitness is a huge part of my life and it’s very important in rallying.

Good to see you’re keeping fit! Is cycling a bit part of your fitness regime?

Absolutely – the most important cross-benefit for me, apart from fitness, is heat training. It never fell below 33 degrees Celsius when we were in Corsica. In the Jordan Rally this year it was 40 degrees Celsisus outside, while inside the car it was between 55 and 60 degrees. At that point – you’re either fit enough for it or you’re not. But the other crossover is simply reflexes, going fast off or on road, handling, cornering – they’re totally different but engage the same bits of the brain, whether car or bike.

What do the competitions that you compete in normally involve?

Each rally is split into a number (typically between 15 and 25) of ‘special stages’ which are run on closed roads. Drivers tackle these stages one car at a time in an effort to complete them in the shortest time. Competitors drive to and from each special stage on normal roads, observing normal traffic regulations. During the special stages, Scott reads pace notes to let me know about the conditions on the road ahead.

Most WRC rallies follow the same basic itinerary: two days of reconnaissance on Tuesday and Wednesday, to enable the driver and co-driver to check the route, and ‘shakedown’ – in effect practice on Thursday, followed by the competition itself on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Some events also include ‘Super Special’ stages – short and compact sprint tests which often feature two cars racing head-to-head.

And what are the cars like?

The cars competing at the top level of the sport are known as World Rally Cars, and are – for the last time this year – based on four-cylinder two-litre production cars. But while they might resemble the models found in a high street showroom, upgrades to the engine, transmission and suspension mean a WRC car is a turbocharged, four-wheel-drive monster that develops more than 300bhp and masses of torque! Regardless of the road surface, the cars can accelerate from a standing start to 100kph in around three seconds. Their top speed depends upon the gearing chosen for each rally, but 220kph is not unusual. (Matthew drives a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car)

Have you ever been injured?

In recent years I’ve been lucky, but in April 2005 I had a bad accident at a rally in Wales. My car fired off a notorious bump on a Welsh stage at the bottom of a long, flat-out descent in 6th gear. It went airborne and hit a tree at windscreen level. We went from 168km/h to zero in 1.2 seconds. As well as having one wrist dislocated and my left arm shattered, the paddle shift was forced down into my knee cap which was left in 12 pieces. We were out of the car for nearly five months, and it took a bit of time to recover mentally from that accident as it was such a shock. Rallying is a dangerous sport and my accident has never let me forget that.

How different is the open road of a rally from the day to day environment of modern roads?

There’s really no comparison. On a rally, the roads are specially prepared for us to drive with lots of protective barriers. When you’re driving on the open roads, you’ve got no idea what’s round the corner so it’s just not worth taking risks. Rallies are designed for us to drive fast but the day to day environment of modern roads offer no protection if you choose to drive recklessly.

What has been your best memory in Rally Driving?

I’ve got loads but some highlights have included finishing fourth overall at Rally Japan in 2007. I also held the record for being the youngest ever stage winner from Rally Argentina, which was a record I kept until last year. I love competing at my home rally (Wales Rally GB) as the support from the home fans is always fantastic. I’ve got so many great memories, it’s hard to pick just one!

Where in the UK would you recommend for Rally Driving Experiences?

1. Welsh Forest Rally School – Mark / David Higgins
2. Silverstone Rally School
3. Phil Price Rally School
4. Chris Birkbeck Rally School

Are these different from those a more advanced driver may wish to visit?

For a more advanced driver I would recommend the Welsh Forest Rally School run by Mark and David Higgins: Higgins Rally School

Are there any forms of driving that you would recommend somebody practice to get into driving professionally?

Go Karting is always a good start but if you’re a beginner it’s a good idea to start in local rallies or smaller championships to gain more experience. Championships like the Fiesta SportTrophy which are run by M-Sport are a great way to kickstart a rally career.

Thanks a lot for talking to us today Matt, and the best of luck for future competitions.

Check out our Rally Driving Experiences for a great way to get into the exciting sport of Rally, the possibilities are endless!


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