M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs are ready to tackle the gravel stages of Rally Italia Sardegna – Sébastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen all eager to shine at next week’s island event.
With five days of testing on location, the team are well prepared for the challenges ahead and keen to showcase the power and performance of the top-specification Fiesta.
Having won the event last year – and coming off the back of a double podium in Portugal – expectations are high and the team are hopeful of challenging for another strong result.
RALLY ITALIA SARDEGNA: PRIME RALLY TERRITORY
Sardinia’s beautiful beaches and luscious landscapes attract visitors in their droves, but the island is also prime rally territory – its rugged mountains, ancient forests and unspoilt rural terrain providing some of the year’s most demanding stages.
Lined with car-breaking obstacles, these stages leave no room for error. Fast and narrow, they demand precision driving and note calling from the drivers and co-drivers who must maintain their focus in temperatures as high as 30C.
More than a third of this year’s route is new – countless sections within each of the demanding speed tests offering a different challenge to last year’s encounter.
But the service park remains a familiar affair, hosted by the coastal town of Alghero. The town hosts the ceremonial start as well as the podium ceremony, and its idyllic cafes and mouth-watering selection of Italian gelateria are a must for teams and spectators alike.
With the season break just around the corner, Team Principal Malcolm Wilson is keen to see his team realise their potential at Rally Italia Sardegna. The Cumbrian squad normally hope to taste champagne at the end of the rally, but in Sardinia they’ll be hoping to sample the Azure waters of the Costa Smeralda – the winning team diving into the crystal clear waters in celebration.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Rally Italia Sardegna is an event that our team always looks forward to. It’s a beautiful island that is picture-perfect for rallying, and its rural terrain offers some of the most challenging and demanding stages on the calendar. Having won this event last year, the Fiesta is a proven contender and we’ll be aiming to challenge for the top results once again next week.
“Sébastien will certainly be keen to add to his tally of impressive performances at this event. Having won here three times, he knows what it takes to deliver and he’ll certainly be pushing for a strong result. He won’t have to open the road this year and I’m sure he’ll make the most of that, but there’ll still be a lot of drivers benefitting from a cleaner road behind.
“Two of those drivers are Elfyn and Teemu – who proved in Portugal that they’re ready and capable of challenging for the top results. Both could secure another podium next week, and their recent performance provided a big boost for the team – with added motivation for both championships as the season continues.
“All three drivers are capable of securing strong results next week and I’m eager to see what they can do. The competition will be extremely strong, but I think we have the potential to deliver a good team result all round.”
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia know what it takes to secure victory in Sardinia. The Frenchmen have won the island event three times, and have a wealth of experience under their belts – starting the rally for the tenth time next weekend.
With an uncharacteristic mistake ending their hopes of victory in Portugal, the five-time World Champions will have a point to prove in Sardinia. Having to forgo their championship lead, the pairing will no longer be tasked with opening the road – something they’ll be keen to use to their advantage as they hunt down another top result next week.
Previous starts: 9
Best result: 1st (2013, 2014 and 2015)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“Portugal was a shame as we had the speed to challenge for the win. It was a small mistake with big consequences, but we put it behind us and are now fully focused on giving it everything we’ve got in Sardinia.
“Having competed here many times before, I’ve learned to really enjoy these demanding stages. It’s a beautiful island, but not the easiest of rallies with some very rough and abrasive terrain. You need to keep a margin and stay focused from start to finish – which is exactly what we intend to do next week.
“We won’t be opening the road this year, but we’ll still have something of an uphill battle with many fast drivers benefitting from a cleaner road behind. Even so, I’m confident that we can challenge for a good result. If we can keep the lead in sight on Friday night then we’ll be in with a chance – and will push for the best possible result.”
Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt made a return to the podium at Rally de Portugal, and the Brits will be keen to continue that trend when the action returns to Sardinia next week.
The island holds special memories for Evans – hosting his world rally car debut in 2013. In 2015 he finished just shy of the podium in fourth place overall, and the Welshman will be keen to do at least one better next week.
With their confidence high and the advantage of a cleaner road through the opening day of competition, the pairing are in with a good chance of challenging for another strong result.
Previous starts: 4
Best result: 4th (2015)
Elfyn Evans said:
“Sardinia will always be a special place for me. It’s where I first got behind the wheel of a world rally car and I’ve come to really enjoy the challenging nature of the stages. It’s not an easy rally by all means, but I think that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy it so much.
“It’s such a demanding event and there are so many things that you need to keep in mind. The stages themselves are very rough and abrasive. You need to keep a margin within your driving otherwise your rally can be over before it’s even begun.
“Then there’s the heat. At this time of year we can be looking at temperatures as high as 30C. That takes its toll on the cars, and the 50C plus temperatures inside the cockpit take their toll on the crew too!
“After our good result in Portugal we’re keen to keep that momentum going in Sardinia. We’ve completed two days of testing and we’ll have a fairly good road position on Friday that we’ll need to make the most of. If everything goes our way, I see no reason why we can’t be challenging for another strong result.”
Teemu Suninen secured his maiden podium at Rally de Portugal, and the young Finn will be keen to see that form continue as the championship ventures to another familiar event next week – Rally Italia Sardegna.
Guided by experienced co-driver Mikko Markkula, Suninen has contested the Italian fixture on two previous occasions, and never fell short of victory. In 2015, the Finnish pairing won the WRC 3 category. In 2016, they won the WRC 2 category.
Returning to the island at rallying’s highest level, another win may be a big ask but the pairing are certainly in with a chance of securing another strong result. With their confidence high, and a good road position for the opening day, Suninen has the potential to continue where he left off in Portugal.
Previous starts: 2
Best result: 8th (2016)
Teemu Suninen said:
"I didn’t compete in Sardinia last year, but I did win the WRC 2 category in 2016 so hopefully that will help us this year. Every rally is difficult at this level and every minor detail has an effect on the end result – I’m sure Sardinia will be no different.
“We completed a one day test last week which proved really useful. The road was quite slow, but that was good for me as it’s on these slower roads where I need to focus on improvements – where it’s slow and narrow and you need to take an advantage over every inch of the road.
“Even on the test I noticed how hot it will be next week. Normally I drink three litres a day but in Sardinia I expect to be drinking more than five litres a day! The stages are also quite rough and that means that we will have to get every stone marked in our notes.
“By focusing on my rivals my speed won´t improve. I’ll focus purely on my own driving and on improving stage by stage – then we’ll see where we are at the end of the rally.”