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Wilson junior flies the flag for Britain

Last updated on: November 28, 2006 11:56 IST
Matthew Wilson, the only Briton competing full-time in this year's world rally championship, will never forget his first driving lesson.

It was taught by Finnish veteran Ari Vatanen, the crowd-pleaser whose flat-out style brought him the 1981 world title with Ford, in an old Mark II Escort in a field behind the family home.

Wilson was seven years old.

Rallying, a sport whose devotees are happy to get up before dawn to stand around for hours on freezing hillsides and in dank forests waiting for cars to blast past in a blur of mud and gravel, has been a big part of his life for as long as he can remember.

Now 19, and the youngest driver in the championship as well as the youngest ever points scorer, Wilson has taken to rallying like a natural.

Which of course he is. Son of Ford's title-winning team boss Malcolm Wilson, he grew up with rally cars being built almost in the backyard and world champions of all ages dropping in for dinner.

Wilson is undeniably going places fast, perhaps too fast. This weekend he starts his home Rally of Britain, the season's finale, with a one-minute penalty after collecting his 10th speeding fine of the year.

That sanction will dent his hopes of closing out the year in style but British fans, starved of rally heroes since the days when Colin McRae and the late Richard Burns were on top of the world, will still be cheering him on.


"There's no Colin, there's no Richard any more so expectations are quite high," Wilson told Reuters in London before heading home to Cumbria in north-west England and then on to Wales.

"But we've always said that it's not going to happen straight away, it is going to take time. I think people who are involved with rallying understand that you can't just jump in there and be fast.

"We're happy with what we've done and we've had a relatively good year. Going into next year we've got experience of the rallies and we're going back to places where we've been before. It should make it a hell of a lot easier."

Wilson drives for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team, with his father -- a former British champion -- running that team as well as the main factory one that has just captured the manufacturers' championship.

"On a rally, he's a team boss and when we go home he's my dad," the teenager said.

"He does let me get on with it, he's not one of those really pushy dads that will interfere with everything.

"If you are doing something and he sees what's happening, often he'll come across and say 'Why don't you do it like that? It'll make it easier.' Anything that he does say, you tend to think he's right," he added.

"There have been times when it's been difficult, there's been a lot of pressure on him to try and get the manufacturers' championship back. Now that's done, it's like a weight off his shoulders."

Ford's title, clinched in New Zealand this month, was their first for 27 years.

Wilson junior, with Northern Irish co-driver Michael Orr, hopes it will take him no more than five years to be setting the pace and challenging for wins.

He has just one point to his credit, scored in Argentina in April, but the team believe he is already ahead of schedule.


Wales Rally GB, as the British round is officially known, is an event that the younger Wilson knows well enough after previous starts in less powerful cars.

"I know what the score is. I'm looking forward to it. It's good to be the only Brit with a world rally car," he said.

McRae, the Scot who was Britain's first world rally champion with Subaru in 1995 before switching to Ford from 1999 to the end of 2002, won the event three times (1994, 1995 and 1997).

Burns, the first English driver to win the world championship in 2001, won his home race three times in a row from 1998 to 2000. He died last year of a brain tumour. Both men left a lasting impression on the young Wilson.

"Colin was always a big thing, his raw speed and his big sideways action and everything," said Wilson. "And you've got to admire Richard as well with his approach to it all. I think it was a lot more calculated and he drove a lot more with his head.

"If I could be a mixture of them both it would be the ideal scenario."

Alan Baldwin
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