M-Sport Ford World Rally Team stars Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux showed early promise as Belgium’s classic Ypres Rally debuted as a round of the World Rally Championship, but were forced to retire both of their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs after going off the road. Their team-mate Teemu Suninen however starred in the WRC2 class and remains in the hunt for a strong finish, although he and reigning Junior WRC champion Tom Kristensson also left the road.
In dry, sunny conditions the challenging loop stages around the historic market town of Ypres offered a completely new experience to all but a handful of drivers in the field. Both of the M-Sport crews made a conservative start as they sought to gain understanding of the stages, with Fourmaux and his Belgian co-driver Renaud Jamoul, setting the seventh fastest time through the second stage of the event, the 19.6 km Westouter-Boeschepe test, before disaster struck on the third timed stage.
On a high speed section of the 23.6 km Kemmelberg stage, Fourmaux’s car was thrown offline by surface dirt and launched into a dizzying series of three pirouettes through the air, coming to rest against a lamp post. Both driver and co-driver emerged unhurt, but there was substantial damage to their Ford Fiesta WRC which has brought an end to their rally.
Greensmith and his co-driver Chris Patterson made a measured start to the weekend, setting ninth fastest time on both of the opening stages. They upped their pace and set the seventh fastest time through the third stage but their rally was also to be interrupted.
Barely 200 metres into the 9.4 km Zonnebeke stage, the Englishman slid off the road into one of the deep and unforgiving ditches that line the roads as they twist through the Flanders farmland. He will restart the rally on Saturday morning.
While the WRC crews were left ruing the day’s events, their M-Sport Ford World Rally Team team-mate Teemu Suninen enjoyed an exemplary opening morning, setting fastest time on all four of the day’s opening stages.
After the first service halt, the flying Finn and co-driver Mikko Markkula set about maintaining their advantage without risking the car, holding ninth place overall until the final stage of the day, the second run through Zonnebeke, when a brief excursion into a field caused the radiator to overheat as they left the final stage.
In that same stage the sister car of 2020 FIA Junior WRC champion Tom Kristensson and co-driver David Arhusiander also stopped after going off the road on the final stage.
M-Sport Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“It’s been a character-building day for the entire team, which has worked so hard throughout testing prior to the event to get enough experience to give ourselves the best chance possible.
“Sadly, Adrien’s car is not repairable, it suffered a very big series of impacts and he is going to have to retire from the event. It was difficult to tell from the television and the information that we received initially, which gave us some hope, but having now given the car a thorough inspection it is clear that there isn’t any way to get him underway again this weekend.
“Adrien was really committed to that particular corner and there was some dirt on the road from farm traffic which sent the car out from under them. When you’re competing against the top guys in the world and you have to push, and a lot of our competitors have more experience of this event, it is just a very unfortunate way for his event to finish.
“Adrien and Gus have been working with some experienced veterans of this event during the build-up to try and give themselves the best chance but when things like this unfold there is so little time to correct and really they were just passengers on this occasion.
“Gus was also very unlucky with having his incident at the start of the stage. We’ve seen a lot of people sliding into ditches already this weekend. It’s very frustrating, but once you get into the ditches there’s very little chance of getting out unassisted but at least he should be able to restart tomorrow.
“Our priority now has to be to get Gus, Teemu and Tom back out into the action tomorrow and to see how the weekend develops while they gain that all-important experience of this unique event.”
Gus Greensmith said:
“This event is completely unique and we made a few setup changes with each passing stage to get more comfortable. Things were feeling better and better and I felt increasingly confident in the car but sadly the day ended too soon and it will be back to the drawing board tonight and to try to take as much experience as we can through the weekend.”
Adrien Fourmaux said:
“We have a small headache and some pain in the legs and my foot but basically all okay. Honestly, it was just the corner tightening but it was still flat, it said in the pacenote that it was flat corner but there was a bit of dirt and we just oversteered a little bit and then just hit something in the ditch and the car was gone.
“It’s nearly my home rally of course and it’s a big disappointment with so many friends and family here but for sure it’s also the downside of this sport that this sort of thing can happen. There is always something to learn and for sure we have to analyse a little bit more. It’s a shame we were just 500 metres from the end of the stage but we will have a lot to learn.”
Teemu Suninen said:
“Basically the day was going quite well, in the morning we were showing good pace and it felt like we had good pace and good feeling in the car. The roads were tricky with people before us cutting corners and that’s a big feature of this rally with the dirt on the road and we were just coming through the last stage and I lost the rear, went in a ditch and grass blocked the radiator so we had to stop after the final stage.”
Tom Kristensson said:
“This rally started very well for us and we were encouraged by the way that we were able to build our pace through the day. The stages were very enjoyable and we were building a good feeling but sadly the final stage was so dirty when so many cars had been through and I just lost the front end of the car, I’m sorry for me and for the team when it was going so well.”