M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm got their Rally Estonia off to the perfect start yesterday evening – setting the joint-fastest time and leading the event as the FIA World Rally Championship returned to action.
But as the competition headed into the Estonian countryside, the Flying Finn struggled to keep pace with the leaders and focused on bringing his EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC safely home in seventh place overall.
Having not driven a top-specification Fiesta on fast gravel for over a year, and never in Estonia, Teemu Suninen and Gus Greensmith were on something of a learning curve when compared to their more seasoned rivals.
Both drivers improved their rhythm as the day wore on, but the blisteringly fast nature of the Estonian stages demand the upmost confidence and they were forced to focus their attention on gaining knowledge and experience for the future.
There was also a promising start for Adrien Fourmaux and Renaud Jamoul who impressed behind the wheel of their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 in the FIA World Rally Championship’s premier support championship.
Going up against strong competition – including two-time Rally Estonia winner Mads Østberg – the young Frenchman held his own with a string of highly competitive times in the WRC 2 category and led the rally before picking up a puncture on the first pass of Elva (SS6).
Despite falling from first to fourth, Fourmaux wasn’t about to give up the fight and quickly set about recovering the time loss on what is only his fifth gravel rally in a four-wheel-drive Fiesta.
Climbing back into podium position on the very next stage, the Frenchman now has second place in his sights with 7.7 seconds to find through tomorrow’s closing stages.
And elsewhere in the M-Sport Family, there was good news across the Baltic Sea where P-G Andersson and Anders Fredriksson secured a commanding victory behind the wheel of their Ford Fiesta Rally2 at the East Swedish Rally.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“It was great to see Esapekka showing the pace of the Fiesta with that fastest stage time on Friday night, but once today’s action got underway things got pretty tough for us. We’ve not had as much running as the other guys, but we were still hoping for a bit more to be honest.
“We’re not where we wanted to be, but when you’re not in the fight and lacking some confidence it’s so hard to find those extra tenths that make the difference – especially at these speeds when those tenths are only magnified.
“Adrien has however delivered a really promising performance in WRC 2 which was fairly impressive when you consider that this is only his fifth gravel rally with the four-wheel-drive Fiesta. It was a shame about the puncture, but he’s going up against some big names when it comes to fast gravel rallies and on course for another strong result.
“And finally, I think I speak for the whole team when I say how great it’s been so see rallying back on our screens! The organisers have done a fantastic job this weekend, and the rally is delivering some thrilling action out on the stages!”
Esapekka Lappi (7th) said:
“It’s good to be back behind the wheel, but it’s not been an easy day for sure. It felt good to set the fastest time last night, but we weren’t able to continue that today. We’ve been trying to keep the speed up, but it’s been difficult. Now we just need to be smart and see what we can learn to improve tomorrow.”
Teemu Suninen (8th) said:
“It’s good to be back in the rally, but we’re not where we wanted to be this weekend. After a long break without driving it took a while to get back into the rhythm. Once we did that the driving actually felt quite good, but still we were missing something. We will try a few things tomorrow – with the car and with the driving – and hopefully we can make some improvements.”
Gus Greensmith (10th) said:
“Any day in a rally car is a good day, but I was hoping for a little bit more to be honest. Realistically we knew it would be tough, and after the first few stages I knew that I just had to focus on my own rally. I wanted to progress and that’s what we did. We were about a second a kilometre off my team mates in the morning, and by the afternoon we’d got that down to two tenths – so I’m happy with that, but there is still more to find.”
Adrien Fourmaux (3rd WRC 2) said:
“I really enjoyed the stages today and I am really happy with my pace. This is only my fifth ever gravel rally with this car – and two of those were in Greystoke – so to be challenging with some of these experienced guys is really great.
“We made a little mistake this morning – running wide and picking up a puncture – but other than that everything has been good and I’m learning all the time where I can be faster. We’re only 7.7 seconds away from second place now, so that has to be our target tomorrow.”