M-Sport Ford World Rally Team stars Gus Greensmith and Teemu Suninen have shown great speed but suffered misfortune on the opening day of Rally Italia Sardegna, where they tackled twisty, technical gravel stages in their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs.
Friday’s first leg, held in up to 30 degree heat, saw a morning loop of two stages - the 22.29 km Filigosu and 14.36 km Terranova – run twice apiece. For Suninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula, returning to the WRC team after leading M-Sport’s WRC2 campaign on the two previous rounds, drama struck all too soon.
At the 20.5 km mark on SS1, the Finn rolled his Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC onto its side. Although the car was rolled back onto its wheels successfully, it proved impossible to restart the car and it was retired for the day.
Greensmith, meanwhile, took a steady start on the morning loop and built his pace while establishing a rapport with his new co-driver for this event, Stuart Loudon. The 24-year-old Englishman showed great maturity in refusing to be flustered as he found his way towards the sweet spot in his car’s handling, then began to push towards a strong seventh place at the mid-day service.
The afternoon loop would bring two more passes through a pair of short and technical stages, the 12.08 km Tempio Pausania and 14.97 km Erula.
Greensmith’s pace continued to gain momentum throughout the afternoon, setting fifth fastest time on the penultimate stage of the day and proving once again the potential of the Ford Fiesta WRC at the elite level of rallying.
Unfortunately a transmission issue at the start of the final stage of the day, forced Greensmith to pull off the road after 2 km. Both of the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team stars will restart on Saturday under Rally 2 rules.
In WRC2, Adrien Fourmaux returned to the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 in which he contested the early rounds of the year, buoyed by his stellar performances in the main WRC team on the last two events in Croatia and Portugal.
The young Frenchman, co-driven by Belgian Renaud Jamoul, started strongly and set the second-fastest time through the opening stage of the day.
Sadly, Fourmaux’s charge ended too soon after suffering suspension damage on SS2, obliging him to retire from the rest of the day’s action. Nevertheless, his Ford Fiesta was returned to the service park where M-Sport effected repairs and Fourmaux will restart under SuperRally rules on Saturday.
M-Sport Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“The positives that we can take from today are the pace that we have shown in both the main WRC and the WRC2 cars.
“Gus had done supremely well in building the relationship with Stuart on their first event together despite not having much opportunity settle their partnership in before the start. Listening to them in the car, I think it’s been getting better and better on each stage.
“This morning, they worked hard to get the car handling how they wanted it, which has been reflected in their times. It was therefore heart-breaking to see all that hard work undone on the final stage of the day when the toll taken by these rough stages on their transmission caused it to falter.
“Teemu made what looks like a mistake and unfortunately he’s cost himself a chance of a result this weekend. Adrien also made a small mistake that was magnified by an unseen rock on the inside of the corner.
“All the cars will be fixed and ready to go tomorrow so let’s see what we can do with no pressure over the rest of the event.
This has been a really tough day for the whole team, but we have the best team of people, we know what we can achieve and we will never give up fighting to get the results we want and deserve. I would like to say thanks to all of them for the hard work that people both on and off event and I know what they deserve will come.”
Gus Greensmith said:
“To be honest, I’ve been quite happy with what I’m doing. We lacked a bit of pace in the first couple of stages because we didn’t have any opportunity to test here before the event and so we went with the same setup that we used in Portugal 10 days ago.
“At the start of the day, our suspension was too soft for the road conditions, which meant that I was lacking a bit of precision in the corners and didn’t want to push too hard. We were able to make a few adjustments on the road and you can see from the times that everything felt a lot better and we got a lot closer to the pace of the leaders, so overall it was a big positive.
“The stages are incredibly rough. At one point we actually had the jack break loose over some of the roughest ground, it broke the mount and the loose jack then caused an oil spillage near the exhaust but we got that cleaned up before there was a fire.
Other than that, the Fiesta was flawless until the final stage start, when the transmission unfortunately just took too much of a beating. I’m devastated as a top-five finish was absolutely within the car, and we will be going all-out when we restart tomorrow to show that same pace.”
Teemu Suninen said:
“I pulled the handbrake and stalled the engine and then I really had no power to pull through the corner so just slid wide by two metres and we got stuck. The car started to get quite hot and we lost one sensor, after which it wasn’t running anymore. It should be quite an easy fix, basically from the outside of the car there’s just one mirror missing, but sadly we weren’t able to carry on today.
“The Ford Fiesta WRC felt so good, the difference between Rally1 and Rally2 is something really special, I was sure that a top five finish was possible.
“Fortunately we will be able to restart tomorrow and although the prospect of good points has gone I believe we can show the true potential pace that we have throughout the next two days and show how fast the car is through these stages.“
Adrien Fourmaux said:
“It was a small mistake this morning, which was in part inexperience on gravel. Unfortunately there was a big stone in the verge on the inside of the bend where I tried too tight a line, which meant that our battle for victory in WRC2 ended on the second stage of the rally.
“We will restart under SuperRally tomorrow and I hope to show some good stage times as we make a recovery.
I’m really sorry to the team and all our partners that we won’t be in the fight for victory this weekend but I am confident that with the repairs made by the team today we will be able to show the performance of the Ford Fiesta Rally2 is on all surfaces.”