M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs are back on home soil, and back on the pace at this weekend’s Wales Rally GB – Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin delivering a stage-winning performance on their return to the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Brits may have chosen the wrong set-up for Oulton Park’s opening stage yesterday evening, but when the competition hit the Welsh forests Evans showed what he was capable of and set the fastest time through the first stage of the morning (SS2).
Unfortunately, he then ran wide on a fast right-hander – picking up a puncture and damaging the suspension through the first pass of Penmachno (SS3). The mistake cost him 43.3 seconds, but he was quick to showcase his mechanical skills – and quick on the next stage too (SS4) with another joint fastest time!
Having to contend with the worst of the conditions through the afternoon loop, the Brits continued to hold their own but struggled against those running earlier on the road – especially in the penultimate stage (SS9) where Evans and Martin were hampered by the fading light.
A second fastest time through the final, full-night stage of the day showed their confidence in each other – as well as their notes – and anything can still happen at this notoriously difficult event with much to play for over the remaining stages.
Teemu Suninen and Jarmo Lehtinen were also on the pace and within touching distance of the podium before a high-speed spin cost them 15 seconds on the first pass of Dyfnant (SS4).
Regrouping over the afternoon, the young Finn showed his pace with the second fastest time through the second pass of Penmachno (SS7) and is just over half a minute shy of the lead.
Getting to grips with the power and performance of the top-specification Fiesta in these treacherously slippery conditions, Pontus Tidemand also showed improvement over the afternoon stages and will be looking for more of the same tomorrow.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“It’s great to see Elfyn straight back on the pace with a stage-winning performance today. Of course it’s a shame that he lost some ground, but this time last year Sébastien [Ogier] was almost 40 seconds adrift of the lead and still went on to take the victory – so anything can still happen.
“We know we have the pace, and Elfyn and Teemu have both set some really impressive times today – we just need to iron out those little mistakes. With the competition as close as it is at the moment those mistakes can be pretty costly. But there’s still a long way to go, and we’re all focused on delivering our best this weekend.”
Teemu Suninen (7th) said:
“It’s been a tough day out there with lots of mud and changes in grip. I think we had pretty good pace, but unfortunately I made a small mistake in the morning and we lost some time. We were battling with the guys at the front, but the mistake happened when I was trying to gain back the time that we lost with a wrong tyre choice last night. We need to learn from this and remember that we can’t get all that time back in one or two stages – and tomorrow we just need to continue doing our best and staying on our limits.”
Elfyn Evans (8th) said:
“It’s nice to be back behind the wheel – and a pretty long day at it too! There were a few frustrating moments – losing all that time with a mistake and a puncture this morning, and then this afternoon having a stage cancelled and running into darkness in Dyfnant when the guys at the front went through in the daylight. It’s tough to do anything in those conditions, but that’s the way it is and I think we can still be happy with the day and with the pace we’ve had.”
Pontus Tidemand (9th) said:
“This morning was one of the toughest in my career, but we made some changes for the afternoon and I felt a lot better and a lot more comfortable in the car. We had a spin early on in the afternoon which wasn’t what we wanted, but the pace was better and I hope to show some more improvement tomorrow.”