M-Sport Ford World Rally Team young stars Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux have begun Rally de Portugal full of pace and promise with both taking their turn to set impressive stage times in their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs.
At the completion of Friday’s first leg, held in mainly dry and warm conditions, Greensmith is in seventh position overall with Fourmaux one spot behind in eighth after more than 120 kilometres of competitive running on challenging gravel roads in central Portugal.
But those placings don’t paint the full picture of another encouraging performance in the FIA World Rally Championship by two members of M-Sport’s roster of rising talent.
Co-driven by Chris Patterson, Greensmith, 24, was rapid out of the blocks, setting the joint third-fastest time on SS1. And it got better for the Briton on SS4 when he went second fastest against vastly more experienced opposition to demonstrate the competitive nature of the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC – and his continued emergence.
After a damaged left-rear tyre on SS3 cost him nearly 50s, he hit back in the afternoon with the third quickest run through the single-use SS7 to move into seventh place, a little more than 60s off the lead.
Edging out team-mate Fourmaux on the day-closing, head-to-head superspecial at the Lousada rallycross track with the third fastest time, Greensmith reached the overnight halt it Matosinhos, just north of Porto, firmly on course for more WRC points.
On a mission to maximise his learning on his first event on gravel in a World Rally Car, Fourmaux underlined his potential by going fourth fastest through SS3. Relishing his gilt-edged opportunity, the WRC2 graduate delivered a succession of consistent stage performances and would have gone even faster on SS6 had it not been for a brief stall.
With Renaud Jamoul co-driving, the 26-year-old started SS7 in seventh position, only for a spin and a damaged right-rear tyre to cost him vital time. Although he fell to eighth as a result, Fourmaux’s progress has been much in evidence on his Rally de Portugal debut.
Teemu Suninen is firmly in the fight for victory in WRC2. Co-driven by Mikko Markkula, the 27-year-old is 9.8s off the category lead after eight stages in his EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2. Rarely outside the top three WRC2 stage times, Suninen was delayed by almost 10s on SS4 in hanging dust thrown up by a rival driver’s car.
Making his second start in WRC2 since he stepped up as the FIA Junior WRC Champion, Tom Kristensson was adapting to faster and more technologically advanced Rally2 machinery when he went off the road on SS4. The Rally de Portugal rookie, 30, and co-driver David Arhusiander are expected to restart day two, however.
M-Sport Managing Director, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“We’ve seen really strong performances from both Gus and Adrien all day. They’re two young guys with limited experience but they’ve done everything that has been asked of them and it’s fantastic that Gus has been able to set two top-three stage times. His second fastest time on SS4 was very promising. It says a lot about this potential and is reward for his commitment and dedication.
“Gus and Adrien are here to learn and improve. But, above all, they’re here to finish the rally and get plenty of kilometres under their belts. They’re doing exactly that, and we’ve been impressed with their approach. Tomorrow is another long and challenging day but we’re hoping to see the same progression.
“Teemu has had a very good day in WRC2 and it’s no surprise that he and the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 are in the fight for the category win. Tom’s turn to challenge at the front will come when he gets more experience at this level. It’s a shame for him that he didn’t complete all the stages today, but we know he will come back stronger.”
Gus Greensmith (7th) said:
“We worked really hard on the test last weekend and the ideas we came up with have brought this car alive for me and that’s really pleasing. I felt the tyres overheated a bit on SS2, so I was trying to manage them a bit and I was clearly too cautious in places.
“It was a shame about the puncture on SS3 because, otherwise, we shouldn’t be too shy of the podium, but we were able to keep the focus and keep going and I was happy with my driving and what I’ve achieved so far. I’ve spent 50 per cent of the day inside the top three stage times so it’s been positive.
“As soon as Chris came into the car he showed me the bits where I was going wrong and where I needed to make changes. We’ve worked really hard on those areas and everything seems to be becoming a lot better. The progression’s a lot quicker than I expected it to be and I’m enjoying it.”
Adrien Fourmaux (8th) said:
“It was a really nice loop this morning, just so enjoyable and the car was amazing to drive, so much fun. But we’re here to learn so I was focusing on doing that and going forward in a good direction.
“This afternoon was another challenge, another new experience. I was surprised how rutted the road was and I was afraid to have a puncture. But looking at the whole day, I’ve been really happy with my stage times and with my driving.
“In a corner that was tightening on SS7, the rear wheel was just a bit in the dust and we had a big spin. We were lucky that the car had no real damage, just a puncture, but everything was okay and we are hoping for another good day on Saturday and for more experience.”
Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2) said:
“It’s been a really good day for us, but it’s been quite tricky with a lot of rough places and we had to be quite clever. We’ve been on a really good pace and we’ve been fighting for the seconds with two other driivers. We lost 10s in Mads Østberg’s dust on SS3 when I couldn’t see anything, but let’s see if we can get the time back. The Fiesta Rally2 is proving to be really competitive in these conditions and I look forward to understanding it on gravel even more over the next two days.”
Tom Kristensson (8th WRC 2) said:
“We had some problems earlier in the day. They became a thorn in our side and we slid down into a ditch on SS4 and were unable to get back up. We'll give it another go tomorrow.”