The FIA World Rally Championship makes a return to gravel at next week’s Rally Argentina, and M-Sport are fully focused on securing another strong result.
As the only manufacturer to have secured a podium finish on each round of the championship thus far, the team are determined to keep their untarnished record intact and have been working around the clock to ensure the best possible result.
Since returning from the Tour de Corse, the workshop has been a hive of activity – with just four days to transform the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs into their gravel trim. If that weren’t enough, the test team were also hard at work over the Easter break – conducting a comprehensive research and development test in the Arganil region of Portugal.
Focused on making the most of Rally Argentina, the team have their sights firmly fixed on another podium challenge.
VAST VARIATION OF CHALLENGING TERRAIN
Based in the lakeside resort of Carlos Villa Paz, Rally Argentina provides one of the most demanding routes of the year with a vast variation of challenging terrain.
From the sandy roads and river crossings of the Santa Rosa de Calamuchita Valley, to the rocky tracks of the Traslasierra mountains, the South American fixture has it all – including a spectator-friendly Super Special to start the action in downtown Cordoba on Thursday evening.
The landscapes’ contrasting characteristics demand quick thinking from the crews and an ability to adapt their driving styles as they venture from pampas plains to rugged mountains and moonlike vistas.
The early autumn weather in the southern hemisphere can also bring a risk of fog and those with the most confidence in their pacenotes can often reap the rewards.
THE TEAM PRINCIPAL
Whether it be rally, rallycross or race, M-Sport has secured a podium finish at every event so far this year, and Malcolm Wilson is keen to see that trend continue at next week’s Rally Argentina.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“We’ve racked up a fairly impressive record so far this year. I’m extremely proud to think that we are the only manufacturer to have secured a podium finish at every event so far this season, and we certainly want to see that continue.
“The Tour de Corse wasn’t the easiest of events for the team, but we dug deep and secured a strong result all the same. Since then, work has been on-going and I must thank all of the M-Sport staff who worked through their Easter holidays to ensure we are as prepared as possible for Rally Argentina.
“This is an event that Sébastien and Julien have never won. Understandably, they want to put that right this year and it’s up to us to give them the best possible means of doing that. Ott hasn’t had the best of luck in Argentina, but I don’t think he’ll let that stand in his way and the return to gravel should see his confidence back to full force. Elfyn too will be looking forward to a return to the loose stuff, and he’s always performed well in Argentina.
“We have all of the ingredients to secure another strong result next week – we just have to pull it all together and leave no stone unturned in our preparation.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
THE CHAMPIONSHIP LEADERS
Believe it or not, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia are yet to taste the winners’ champagne at Rally Argentina. Having contested the event on seven previous occasions, the four-time World Champions have been on the podium four times and finished as the runners’ up three times.
Keen to add an Argentinian victory to their impressive résumé, the French pairing will be hoping to battle for the win next week.
Previous starts: 7
Best result: 2nd (2016, 2014 and 2013)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“Rally Argentina is the only event that Julien and I have not yet won and, every year, we go there with the ambition of securing victory for the first time. That has not changed this year. We want to win, but it won’t be easy.
“We’ll be opening the road through on the first day which brings its own challenges, and then there are the stages themselves. The surface is unlike anything we have visited so far this year. It’s gravel, but it’s a completely different type of gravel to what we experienced in Mexico.
“In Argentina, the roads are much softer and sandier but also quite rough in places. That means that challenging for the win is always going to be a compromise between speed and endurance.
“I had two days of development testing in Portugal last week and everything is moving in the right direction, so we’ll be hoping for another strong result next week.”
TÄNAK AND JÄRVEOJA
FOURTH IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP
As the FIA World Rally Championship returns to gravel, Ott Tänak will be looking to get his championship campaign back on track by challenging for a top result at Rally Argentina.
A top-five result has thus far eluded the Estonian at the South American fixture – and co-driver Martin Järveoja will be contesting the event for the first time – but the determined duo aren’t ones to let previous statistics stand in their way.
Previous starts: 4
Best result: 10th (2012)
Ott Tänak said:
“It feels good to be heading back to gravel, but we start with a big challenge at Rally Argentina.
“It’s not like my favourite high-speed events where you can use the entire road and slide from one side to the other. Here, there is always something to hit. Rocks can often get dragged onto the stage and you need to keep your eyes open – you have to keep that margin and know which risks are worth taking and which ones aren’t.
“In the past I’ve not had the best of luck in Argentina, but I feel as though we’ve done a lot to improve ourselves and it would be nice to put that right this year.
“We had a good test last week – working to improve the handling of the car and to get an even better feeling behind the wheel. I’m looking forward to next week and I think we have a fair chance of a strong result, so let’s see what we can do.”
EVANS AND BARRITT
NINTH IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Rally Argentina holds special memories for Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt – playing host to their maiden FIA World Rally Championship podium in 2015.
Known for his mechanical sympathy, Evans has historically excelled through the rough gravel stages and will be looking for a strong haul of points as the season returns to gravel.
Previous starts: 3
Best result: 3rd (2015)
Elfyn Evans said:
“We’ve got some special memories from Rally Argentina, and we’re looking forward to getting back on the loose stuff. We’ve not had the best of luck so far this season, but hopefully that’ll change when we get back behind the wheel next week.
“It’s an event that I’ve always enjoyed, but you have to take a fairly measured approach. Each day is really different in terms of character, but there is always very little margin for error with something to catch you out around practically every corner. You have to have a clean rally for the majority and keep mistakes to a minimum.
“That said, it is definitely a real highlight on the calendar. The fans are phenomenal – some camping out on El Condor days before the action begins. There’s a real passion for motorsport in Argentina and it’s always special to compete here.”
IN THE SERVICE PARK
Elsewhere in the service park, a further two Ford Fiesta WRCs will be in action as both Mads Østberg and Lorenzo Bertelli make a welcome return to the service park. Both drivers have contested just one event so far this season, and will be keen to make their mark in Argentina.
In the WRC 2 category, Pedro Heller is back behind the wheel of his M-Sport prepared, Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta R5. The Chilean made his debut at Rally Mexico last month and Rally Argentina marks the second of five planned events this year.