M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin are leading the way at this weekend’s Tour de Corse – posting three fastest stage times and holding a 4.5 second advantage over Ott Tänak.
The Welshman made his intent clear from the start with the fastest time through the opening speed test – proving that he and the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC have as much speed on asphalt as they do on gravel.
Evans may have slipped to second on the second stage, but his desire and determination to succeed came to the fore. Working hard over the midday regroup, he and Martin perfected their notes and were the ones to beat over the afternoon loop.
A further two fastest times could have been joined by another on the final speed test, but the Welshman lost out when stuck behind an ailing Kris Meeke.
In the interest of fairness, Evans was awarded the same time as Tänak and the two former team mates are set to continue their fight as the weekend continues.
Further down the field, Teemu Suninen and Marko Salminen were under strict instruction to finish the rally and make it through all of the stages unscathed. Yet despite taking minimal risks, the Finns also proved competitive.
Tackling the Corsican stages for the first time with the power and performance of the top-specification Fiesta, Suninen currently holds fifth place and is outperforming those with considerably more experience.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“We’ve had a great day and proven that we have as much pace on asphalt as we do on snow and gravel. Elfyn and Scott have been brilliant right from the off. They’ve set three fastest stage times and have the pace to challenge for the very top results this weekend.
“I was particularly impressed with the way they worked over the midday regroup. They could see that they lost time on the middle stage [SS2] and worked hard to perfect their notes – smashing it with the fastest time on the repeat run this afternoon [SS5]!
“Then again on the last stage [SS6], they had a chance to extend their lead before getting stuck behind Meeke – but they didn’t get stressed. They kept their cool and we were pleased to see the organisers resolve the issue in the fairest way possible.
“We know how tough a competitor Ott [Tänak] is, but we also know how good the Fiesta is and how hungry Elfyn is for another victory. It’s going to be a pretty epic battle between the two of them, and Thierry [Neuville] isn’t too far behind either!
“Teemu and Marko have also had a really good day. They’re under strict instruction to finish this one and aren’t pushing the limits, so to be in fifth and outperforming those with a lot more experience is really impressive.
“Teemu is a natural competitor so he’s pretty frustrated not to pushing and fighting at the front – especially when he knows there is more to give – but he’s not been here with a world rally car and it’s important that he gets the experience for the future.”
Elfyn Evans (1st) said:
“It’s been a positive day and the car has felt really good. This is the type of rally where you have to be smart and efficient, and I felt like we drove well. We were able to carry the speed through the corners, and keep a smoothness in the driving which seems to be doing the trick.
“There’s going to be a big battle tomorrow and our plan is to stay in this position. Ott [Tänak] and Thierry [Neuville] will both be pushing hard, but we know when everything is working that we can be faster. I’m really looking forward to the day. There’s quite a mix of stages with a bit of everything. It’s all about being adaptable.”
Teemu Suninen (5th) said:
“It’s been a really good day for us and the pace has been good. I could go faster for sure, but I have this monkey on my shoulder holding me back. I have made some mistakes in the last rallies and I need to bring the car home this weekend. But the driving has still been on a good level so we can be happy with that.”
1. Elfyn Evans / Scott Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1:09:39.6
2. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4.5
3. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +9.8
4. Dani Sordo / Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +26.1
5. Teemu Suninen / Marko Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +30.9
6. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Citroen C3 WRC) +36.3
7. Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferme (Citroen C3 WRC) +46.3
8. Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2:27.9