The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team will field three EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs as they do battle for the top results at next week’s Rally Australia – the final round of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.
This year has seen the Cumbrian outfit prove their performance against three of the world's biggest automotive manufacturers, and now they have one last chance to confirm that performance by challenging for the very top results.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“I think we can be really proud of what we’ve achieved this year. A lot of people discounted us at the start of the season, but we knew what we were capable of – and four events in we’d had two drivers lead rallies, won stages on gravel, asphalt and snow, secured two podiums, and came so close to victory in Corsica.
“But I have to admit, the fact that we’ve not managed to secure a win this year does niggle away at the back of my mind. And now, we have one last chance to see if we can make it happen. We’ve done well here in the past, and the lads have been working extremely hard on developing our performance on gravel.
“I believe we have the pace, and I believe we have three drivers capable of delivering. Elfyn is in the form of his life, Teemu is really coming into his own, and Hayden is a proven winner with so much support in this part of the world. I see no reason why we can’t aim high, and that’s exactly what we plan to do next week.”
RALLY AUSTRALIA: THE SEASON FINALE
Nestled on the Gold Coast between Brisbane and Sydney, the coastal town of Coffs Harbour hosts the final round of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.
The event offers a mix of gravel stages with tight and twisty sections in the neighbouring bush and rainforests as well as faster, more flowing sections through the wider shire roads. When dry, these stages play host to some of the worst road cleaning of the year, and when wet they become treacherously slippery.
If that weren’t enough, many stages are lined by trees mere millimetres from the road and the low sun can often make visibility an issue as it creates a strobe effect through the trees.
Rally Australia is no walk on the beach, and those wanting to push for the top results will have to master all of the challenges this notoriously difficult event has to offer!
ELFYN EVANS / SCOTT MARTIN
Next week will see Elfyn Evans hunting down a career-best result on Australian soil as well as a coveted fourth place in the championship. Seven crews have a mathematic chance of claiming the place, but Evans and co-driver Scott Martin are in prime position and determined to deliver a strong result Down Under.
Previous starts: 4
Best result: 5th (2017)
Elfyn Evans said:
“We go to Australia with the aim of securing a strong result and fourth place in the championship. We’ve had a fairly strong season, and we definitely want to end the year on a high by challenging for the best possible result.
“Australia hasn’t been particularly kind to me in the past, but I really enjoy these stages so let’s see what we can do.
“Visibility is often the biggest challenge with low sun and hanging dust. You need to maintain your focus and have total confidence in your notes to keep the speed up – and that’s what we intend to do.
“I’m really looking forward to this rally, and hope to secure my best result on Australian soil.”
TEEMU SUNINEN / JARMO LEHTINEN
Teemu Suninen made his Rally Australia debut last year, but there’ll be no shortage of experience in his Fiesta as co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen is a three-time winner in Australia. Keen to deliver a strong result and come out on top in the battle of the Finns, Suninen will be one to watch as he puts all he’s learnt into practice next week.
Previous starts: 1
Best result: DNF
Teemu Suninen said:
“This is only my second time at Rally Australia, but I’m really looking forward to it and with Jarmo next to me there’ll be a lot of good experience in the car. I really like the roads here, and the rally route is pretty much the same as last year which is good.
“There’s a real mix of stages, but the main challenge comes with the changing light as we quickly go from being under the trees to out in the open and vice versa. Sometimes that can make it hard to read the road ahead – so you have to be really focused and have complete trust in your notes.
“There’s still a big battle between the three Finns in the championship, and of course I would like to do well there. I go into this event with a relaxed mind, and hope to push for a strong result.”
HAYDEN PADDON /JOHN KENNARD
Hayden Paddon and John Kennard will make a welcome return to top-level rallying at next week’s Rally Australia. Despite not driving a world rally car competitively for the past 12 months, Paddon is a proven winner and has a strong track record with the new-generation world rally cars on Australian soil – never finishing shy of the podium.
Previous starts: 8
Best result: 2nd (2018)
Hayden Paddon said:
“This feels like such a long time coming, and I’m really excited about getting back into action with a world rally car. The key will be to stay relaxed. In this situation it would be so easy to put too much pressure on myself, but I know from past situations that that doesn’t work.
“I’ve always enjoyed this rally and I think it’s the event I have the strongest record on. The second day’s stages are quite similar to those we have in New Zealand, and although the others are a little different I really do enjoy them all.
“The biggest challenge is the fact that I have been out of competition for the past 12 months. I know we can do a good job, but the unknown factor is at what level everyone else has increased since we’ve been away – so the goal is just to enjoy ourselves and do the best rally we can.
“I’m a competitive person and will be pushing for a good result, but it would be unfair to put pressure on myself when it comes to securing a specific result – it’s just a case of taking it one step at a time.
“Finally, I would like to say a huge thanks to the many people from New Zealand who have continued to support us and who have made this event possible; a massive thank you to everyone, including our new sponsor Bailey Caravans NZ.”