Wilson looks to take a step up on to the podium

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The Independent Online

Another World Rally Championship beckons, almost before the dust settled on the previous one, and that suits Britain's sole full-time competitor, Matthew Wilson, just fine.

The Stobart Ford driver ended last season with three consecutive points-scoring finishes and is eager to hit the ground running when business resumes at the daunting Monte Carlo rally next weekend.

Wilson, 21 in nine days' time, is anxious to maintain that momentum and come of age as a WRC driver and has set himself the goal of a maiden podium.

"I want to take another step in my career this year," he said. "I'm looking for consistent points through the year and I really believe I could get myfirst podium by the end of the season. I would need everything to work in my favour, with one or two other drivers to have problems, for that to happen but I'm going into the season with much more confidence that I can achieve that goal."

Wilson has carried a heavy burden of national expectation since he was given his chance at this level two years ago. Britain is desperately seeking the next Colin McRae or Richard Burns to raise the profile of the sport.

Being the son of Ford's rally team principal, Malcolm Wilson, has heaped still more pressure on the young Cumbrian, but his form in the later stages of last season significantly improved. He was highly satisfied with his sixth place in the final round, Rally GB, just seven weeks ago.

"I was competitive throughout that weekend and all the top works guys were running at the end, so I took a lot of encouragement from that. It showed I had the pace to compete and the ability to stay the course.

"Obviously I'm aware of the expectations, but I'm actually finding it easier now than when I first got the drive because I'm used to it and I know I'm making progress all the time. I have learned so much over the last two seasons and that has taken a lot of the pressure off me."

Wilson hopes to secure a works drive, ideally with the senior Ford team, in two years. Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala set the template, earning promotion from Stobart to replace his retired countryman, Marcus Gronholm. "Jari's progress is an added incentive for me," Wilson said. "He's a couple of years ahead of me. I'd like to think I can do the same, and then start planning for the world title."

Ford's plans are in the hands of Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen, another Finn who is expected to lead the challenge to Citroën's Sébastien Loeb, the champion for the past four years. Wilson said: "Mikko and Jari have got a real chance of upsetting Seb. He is still the man to beat and very motivated. But Mikko is ready to be a No 1. He copes with pressure and loves the fight."