Clark ready to take on the world

Somewhere deep in the Cumbrian forests the tell-tale fiery, piercing explosion of sequential gearshifts being made at rapid speed is spitting out of the exhaust of Barry Clark’s Stobart Ford Focus World Rally Car. The deafening sound confirms what he wanted to hear; he, and his car, are ready for the challenge of Wales Rally GB.

Less than 24 hours after finishing building his four-wheel-drive, 300-plus horsepower Ford rally car, the 26-year-old Aberdeenshire ace was at a secret location shaking down the Focus to ensure everything was just the way he wanted before heading to Cardiff to start the final round of this year’s World Rally Championship.

Hold on; finished building? Such is Clark’s determination to join the select posse of salaried works’ drivers — led by five-times world champ Sebastian Loeb and Ford drivers, last year’s winner Mikko Hirvonen, and Jari-Matti Latvala — that he works at Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport company in Cockermouth building the Fords.

“Normally I’m building the cars for Mikko and Jari-Matti,” the talented youngster from Ellon explained, “but yesterday I finished my car, so if anything goes wrong, I know who to blame. We finished the suspension, wheel alignment and body panels and now everything’s gone well in the shakedown. Sounds terrific and I can’t wait to get stuck into the forest stages.”

Forest stages is where Clark, who became the first Scot since former world champ Colin McRae to contest a round of the WRC when he tackled the Jordan Rally earlier this year, took his first tentative steps in the world of rallying behind the wheel of his 1300cc Vauxhall Nova contesting the 2000 Scottish Championship.

Twelve months later he finished runner-up in the Colin McRae Scholarship and in 2002 he won the RSAC Scottish National Rally and began his association with Ford contesting the  Ka one-make championship. The following year he joined Ford’s British Rally Championship junior team in a works-supported Super 1600 Ford Puma, finishing third in the S1600 series.

Clark’s progress through the ranks continued quietly. In 2006 he was the Junior World Rally Championship Rookie of the Year and finished second in both the Fiesta Sporting Trophy (FST) International and S1600. Last year though he dominated the FST International winning five of the opening seven rounds, including victories in Norway, Portugal, Norway, Sardinia and Finland. His prize for the championship: contesting a round of the 2008 WRC  in a Ford Focus WRC07. However major fundraising allowed him to also contest the rallies in Turkey and Corsica.

But before Turkey, a last-minute opportunity cropped up when Munchi’s Ford WRC driver Luis Perez Companc was called back to Argentina on business 24-hours before the start of the Jordan Rally started. That pitched a shell-shocked Clark into the WRC earlier than he anticipated alongside a Spanish co-driver.

“That was difficult because we were working from someone else’s notes and my co-driver Jose Diaz was having to translate them from Spanish into English as we went through the stages,” Clark remembered. “This week though I’ll have my own pace notes and co-driver. It will also be terrific to get back on to the loose gravel that I know best. Turkey was tough, and then the tarmac of Corsica was another severe test.

“Honestly, you can’t believe the speeds you can get the Ford through the corners on tarmac. The car’s set so low it’s just glued to the road. Scary though! On one side of the road there’s a cliff face and the other a sheer drop; but it’s just brilliant.”

Impressive too. Clark finished 10th in both Turkey and Corsica and has set himself the target of at least a top 10 place when the British round finishes next Sunday after three days and 19 gruelling stages, and perhaps even his first drivers’ championship point if he can squeeze into the top eight.

“Who knows?” he continued. “Wales Rally GB traditionally throws up all sorts of weather and conditions which can catch out even the most experienced driver. Thankfully I’m quite a natural driver and I can change my driving style very quickly to the changing conditions. I know it’s going to be miserable and we’ll get rain, fog, probably ice and even, maybe, snow. There’s also stages in the dark, but I honestly can’t wait.”

Two years ago, driving his Fiesta, he won the S1600 class in Wales Rally GB and it’s such talent which McRae’s father Jimmy is keen to see helped develop.

“The lack of finance is crippling for young rally drivers working their way through the ranks,” the Lanark veteran, who will launch the Colin McRae Vision — a foundation aimed at helping transform the lives of children — said. “It’s crucial, even in these tough economic times, that Scottish and British businesses support our young emerging talent.”

Ironically, Clark should have been joined on the ceremonial start ramp in Cardiff on Thursday evening by Dumfries hotshot David Bogie. The 20-year-old, who narrowly missed out on this year’s Scottish Championship but dominated the Mitsubishi Evo Challenge Championship, should have been driving a works’-prepared Mitsubishi. Disappointingly the car’s engine and transmission are still stuck somewhere in Japan.

Wales Rally GB though offers Clark a platform to display his raw, natural talent and he’s eager to deliver the result which will help attract the funding which will allow him to contest more WRC rounds in 2009.

“Ideally I would like to do six or eight rounds of the world championship next year,” Clark admitted, “but like everything else, it’s all down to how much funding I can raise. A good result in Wales would certainly help the cause.”


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