M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s fleet of EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs endured a tough opening day at this weekend’s Rally de Portugal – Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen both challenging for the top positions before falling adrift of the fight at the front.
Heading into today’s afternoon loop, both of the leading Fiestas had the pace to be on the podium. Just six seconds shy heading into the second pass of Góis (SS5), Evans was on top form and putting pressure on his rivals before a loose connector brought his charge to a halt.
Having to stop in the stage to locate and rectify the issue, the Welshman was able to continue but lost more than four minutes – as well as his hopes of challenging for another podium result.
Suninen had also been delivering an impressive performance with a number of competitive stage times that included a stage win on the second pass of Góis (SS5). Holding third place going into the penultimate stage, he was just 13 seconds shy of the lead and looked set to take second.
Then, in a cruel repeat of fate, he was also struck by technical issues – a broken brake pipe costing him close to a minute and putting paid to his charge.
Further down the field however, Gus Greensmith was delivering an impressive debut behind the wheel of the top-specification Fiesta. In the opening test, the youngster had the better of two World Champions – outperforming Loeb and Ogier, as well as Championship contender Neuville.
The Brit had to contend with a small electrical issue which cost him some seconds on the start line this afternoon, but he improved with every kilometre and enjoyed every moment of his first outing at the sport’s highest level – impressing in seventh place overall.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“It’s been a frustrating day because we definitely had the pace to challenge for the top results this weekend. The Fiesta, the drivers, the whole team, everything was working well. We had two cars fighting for the podium, but things didn’t go to plan this afternoon.
“First, Elfyn had to stop and fix a loose connector. It is credit to his mechanical skills that he was able to locate and rectify the issue so quickly, but the damage had already been done and it cost him four minutes!
“Then Teemu lost the brakes and fell outside the top-five. That was a particularly hard one to take because he had been driving really well. He’d shown great pace, climbed to third, was catching second, and was just 13 seconds off the lead!
“Gus also had a small issue with the electronics that he had to manage, but what a debut he and Elliott have delivered. Not many people can say they beat Sébastien Ogier, Sébastien Loeb and Thierry Neuville on their first stage with a world rally car – but Gus can! He’s in a pretty impressive seventh place now, and I’m sure he'll continue to impress, learn and enjoy this experience tomorrow!”
Teemu Suninen (6th) said:
“We had some problems with the brakes this afternoon and lost close to a minute on a single stage – I can tell you that these fast cars are not easy to drive without brakes! Apart from that, we had a really good day. I was setting good times and fighting for second position. Just before the problem I set a fastest time, and I had a really good feeling with the car. Everything was working well so it’s a shame that we lost the podium position. But tomorrow is another challenging day and anything can happen so we have to keep going.”
Gus Greensmith (7th) said:
“It’s been a mega day out there and I’m pretty happy with how things have gone. The morning was fairly clean – maybe not pushing enough on the second stage and losing a bit of unnecessary time – but in the afternoon we took a good step forward. We lost some time when the car cut out at the start of SS5 – costing us about 10-15 seconds as we waited for it to restart. Then out of frustration I drove way too aggressively and cooked the tyres for the next one. But overall everything has been good and we’re beating some pretty big names! The plan is to improve again tomorrow – I know those stages pretty well, so it would be nice to have a bit of a push!”
Elfyn Evans (16th) said:
“It’s obviously been a disappointing day for us. It hadn’t been the perfect morning, but the feeling was good after lunch and we were starting to make some ground on the guys in front. Then unfortunately there was just a loose connection on the throttle pedal and it took a while to track down the issue. We lost a fair bit of time, and our road position won’t be ideal tomorrow, but I think we just need to go out there, enjoy ourselves, and see what happens.”
1. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1:03:26.7
2. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +17.3
3. Kris Meeke / Sebastian Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +22.8
4. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +24.2
5. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Citroen C3 WRC) +25.8
6. Teemu Suninen / Marko Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:15.7
7. Gus Greensmith / Elliott Edmondson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:22.1
8. Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferme (Citroen C3 WRC) +1:23.7
16. Elfyn Evans / Scott Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4:31.6