M-Sport will be hoping to continue their strong performance next week when the FIA World Rally Championship returns to Europe for the popular Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
With Sébastien Ogier, Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans all behind the wheel of the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC, the team have a strong chance of maintaining their immaculate run of podium finishes and the team are highly motivated to achieve that goal.
Having contested a five-day test in the north of Portugal, the team worked on perfecting set-up configurations as well as confirming a number of findings from last month’s extensive research and development test so as to be best placed for the challenges ahead.
Next week’s event also marks another landmark in the team’s customer programme with the international debut of the Ford Fiesta R5 Evo2. The latest evolution of M-Sport’s most-successful global rally car includes an engine upgrade with redesigns to the cylinder head and exhaust manifold.
Producing additional horsepower, the Fiesta R5 Evo2 will be entrusted to Éric Camilli, Teemu Suninen, Pierre-Louis Loubet, Gus Greensmith and Pedro Heller as they do battle in the highly-competitive WRC 2 category.
RALLY DE PORTUGAL: POPULARITY AND PASSION
Popularity and passion are two words that best describe the Vodafone Rally de Portugal. As the first gravel event on European soil, the Portuguese fixture has become a firm favourite amongst competitors and fans alike – the huge number of spectators mirrored in the impressive entry which the rally receives year after year.
Based in the coastal town of Porto, the crews will tackle 349.17 competitive kilometres across nineteen special stages. The sandy, clay-based terrain means that grip will be at a premium for the early runners. But the soft nature of the roads can also see the stages become more abrasive and hazardous over the second pass.
With deep ruts and the threat of rocks being dragged onto the racing line, survival is a key concern and the team must prepare for the rough conditions.
Tyre selection could also prove pivotal and the crews will need to find the right balance between their soft and hard compounds – the first offering more grip through the soft gravel and the latter proving more durable for the longer loop of stages.
If that weren’t enough, the Portuguese weather can also be somewhat unpredictable. The event has been subject to both glorious sunshine and torrential rain in previous years and the team must be prepared for all conditions.
Whatever the outcome, Rally de Portugal never fails to impress and the closing run through the legendary Fafe stage is a sight to behold with thousands of rally fans lining the hillside.
With M-Sport leading both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championship standings, Team Principal Malcolm Wilson is keen to see the team continue their strong performance. Rally de Portugal also sees the international launch of the Ford Fiesta R5 Evo2 – and Wilson is equally as eager to see how the latest evolution performs.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Rally de Portugal is an event that everyone looks forward to. There is a truly unique atmosphere there and the Portuguese rally fans are some of the most passionate and knowledgeable in the world – with a real enthusiasm for their motorsport.
“It will be a special event for us as we launch the new Ford Fiesta R5 Evo2. The team has been working extremely hard to extract even more from a car that was already very successful and I’m looking forward to seeing what our WRC 2 contenders can do against what will undoubtedly be some of the strongest competition of the year.
“In the top flight, our goal always has to be the podium. With Sébastien, Ott and Elfyn we have a good chance of maintaining our impressive run and the whole team will be working towards that end.
“Sébastien has a fantastic track record at this event, and Ott and Elfyn will be full of confidence following an impressive display in Argentina. The stage is set for a great event and, although the win is anyone’s for the taking, that’s where our eyes will be firmly fixed.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
Rally de Portugal is arguably the spiritual home for Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia. The four-time World Champions secured their first victory at the event in 2010 and have since enjoyed much success on the Portuguese roads.
With four victories to their name, they are just one win away from matching the great Markku Alén who won the event a record five times. As such, the French pairing will be hoping to be in with a chance of challenging for the top-step of the podium next week.
They may find themselves at a disadvantage opening the road through the first day of competition, but the duo can never be discounted and another successful development test in the lead-up to the event sees their confidence back to full force.
Previous starts: 8
Best result: 1st (2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“Rally de Portugal is an event that I look forward to every year. Julien and I have had a lot of success there and it was where we took our first victory so it holds a lot of special memories.
“It’s a country with a real passion and enthusiasm for motorsport, and the atmosphere that the fans generate is something quite unique. As a driver, you always want to do well in those conditions, and we will push the limits to challenge for the win.
“The competition is even closer this year and every team has a chance of victory. Opening the road on the first day will probably make it harder for us, but we come to Portugal with high objectives and a focus on increasing our championship lead once again.
“We’ve done a lot of testing in Portugal over the past couple of months and done some further development work on the car – that's definitely a confidence booster ahead of this rally."
TÄNAK AND JÄRVEOJA
Having secured three podiums so far this year, Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja are enjoying their best ever start to an FIA World Rally Championship.
In what is arguably a break-through year for the Estonians, they now have the ability to challenge for the top results at all loose-surface events to come.
Having made his world-stage debut at Rally de Portugal in 2009, Tänak has contested the event on six previous occasions and always shown good speed at what is traditionally the first European gravel event of the season.
Having further developed their new partnership, Tänak and Järveoja will be hoping to challenge for a top result next week – and will be keen to add another podium to their ever-growing repertoire.
Previous starts: 6
Best result: 5th (2015)
Ott Tänak said:
“Rally de Portugal starts a series of gravel events that I’m really looking forward to. I’ve always enjoyed the Portuguese roads and we’ve shown good speed there in the past.
“I feel as though we’ve developed a lot recently and should be looking towards the podium at every gravel event to come. That has to be our goal in Portugal and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.
“The stages are generally quite technical and twisty with a lot of blind corners and crests, but then there are stages like Fafe – a really enjoyable and fast stage where you can really feel the passion of the fans.
“With the competition so close at the moment, we’ll need to be fully focused and at the top of our game if we want to deliver another strong result. That’s certainly our aim and we’ll be giving it our all as always.”
EVANS AND BARRITT
After coming so close to a maiden FIA World Rally Championship victory at last month’s Rally Argentina, Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt will be aiming for a similarly strong showing at next week’s Rally de Portugal.
The pairing missed out on victory by the cruellest of margins – just 0.7 seconds – but came away with renewed confidence which should hold them in good stead next week.
Having contested the Portuguese event on five previous occasions, Evans has good knowledge of the rally but it remains the chink in his armour having never secured a points-scoring finish.
This year the Welshman will be keen to put that right and, if his impressive performance in Argentina is anything to go by, another strong result could well be on the cards.
Previous starts: 5
Best result: 22nd (2014)
Elfyn Evans said:
“We’ve always had pretty good pace in Portugal, but for various reasons we’ve not been able to translate that into a strong result. After coming so close to victory in Argentina, our confidence is high and I think we’re in a good position to deliver a strong result next week.
“The whole package worked really well in Argentina and the hope will be to continue that in Portugal. A lot will depend on the weather, but the surface isn’t too dissimilar and the soft roads have the potential to become quite rough and rutted over the second pass.
“If we’re to challenge for another strong result we’re going to have to be at the top of our game. We’ll need to get into a good rhythm early on and find our confidence through the stages. If we can do that, anything is possible.”