M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Teemu Suninen and Jarmo Lehtinen secured the young Finn’s best-ever result at this weekend’s Rally Italia Sardegna – their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC claiming second place overall.
It was the perfect debut for the new partnership – Suninen’s youth, speed and ambition paired brilliantly with Lehtinen’s knowledge, experience, and continued desire to succeed. The result also marked Suninen’s second FIA World Rally Championship podium, and Lehtinen’s 70th!
Showcasing their pace with three fastest times on Friday, the pairing also demonstrated consistency and set the second or third fastest time on all of Saturday’s stages.
Instructed to bring the car safely home, the young Finn resisted the urge to push for second through today’s closing stages – but still managed to reduce the gap from 17 to 13.7 seconds. Then, third place became a career-best second when rally-leader Ott Tänak fell to fifth through the closing kilometres.
Ensuring both Fiestas finished in the top-four, Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin collected another strong haul of points to consolidate their fourth place in the championship.
The British pairing had been part of a Fiesta one-two through the early stages, but fell adrift of the podium when the second pass of Castelsardo (SS7) was cancelled for the cars behind – giving their rivals the benefit of fresher tyres, and a better road position the following day.
Locked in an intense battle for fourth place, which became a battle for third given the late drama, the Welshman missed out by less than a second. But despite forgoing a double podium for the Fiesta, he strengthens his championship position going into the summer break.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“It’s been a really good weekend for us with both cars challenging for the top results. We’ve now led a rally on snow, asphalt and gravel, and secured some really strong points in the process. We’ve closed the gap on Citroen, and our two drivers are up to fourth and fifth after ‘the big three’ which is really impressive.
“Teemu delivered a great drive this weekend and the partnership between him and Jarmo is working really well. They had the speed with three fastest stage times on Friday, and backed that up with a mature and consistent drive over the weekend. He was up for challenging Dani [Sordo] last night, but we gave him some fairly strict instructions to bring the car home. Who knows what could have happened if he’d given it a push, but one step at a time and it’s still a fantastic, career-best result.
“It’s a shame Elfyn missed out on the podium, but Andreas had a lot to prove and was pushing really hard. Those stages are so rough, and when you have nothing to lose you can take all the risks and gain a lot of time. Of course it’s a bit gutting to have missed out on a double podium by just 0.9 seconds, but we need to look at the bigger picture where Elfyn and Scott have strengthened their championship position as, ‘the best of the rest.’
“Finally, and from everyone in the team, I need to say commiserations to Ott and Martin. Their pace this weekend was pretty awe-inspiring, and we know how they must be feeling right now.”
Teemu Suninen (2nd) said:
“I am really pleased with our performance this weekend. We had good speed with some fastest times on Friday, and then we were extremely consistent after that – especially on Saturday where we set the second or third fastest time on every stage.
“Today was a lot more difficult. The plan was to bring the car home, but this car really doesn’t like being driven slowly and we had to pick up the pace to make it nicer to drive. It was really hard to judge the rhythm, but we made it and it’s nice to get my first podium of the year.
“Also the partnership with Jarmo was working really well. I thought it would be a lot more challenging having a new voice in my ear, but actually this is the voice I heard whilst watching the rally on the TV as a kid – and that gave me some good memories and big smiles all weekend.”
Elfyn Evans (4th) said:
“It’s really disappointing to have missed out by such a small margin. Looking back, the first stage of the loop was okay but we gave far too much away in both passes of the Power Stage. It’s so rough in there and so easy to make a mistake – but also so easy to make the time if you’re willing to put it all on the line. I wouldn’t say that we didn’t push, but I was definitely too cautious in the hairpins and that’s where we lost it. It’s difficult right now, but it’s still a good result and we’ve strengthened our position in the championship.”
1. Dani Sordo / Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 3:32:27.2
2. Teemu Suninen / Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +13.7
3. Andreas Mikkelsen / Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +32.6
4. Elfyn Evans / Scott Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +33.5
6. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2:16.7
7. Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferme (Citroen C3 WRC) +2:59.6
8. Kris Meeke / Sebastian Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4:40.1