M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s three EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs are cleared for take-off and ready to tackle the jumps and ‘yumps’ of one of the most eagerly-awaited events on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar – Neste Rally Finland.
Returning after a six week break, the team are second in the manufacturers’ championship with Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia also holding second place in the driver and co-driver standings. Naturally, the Cumbrian squad have their sights firmly fixed on reducing the gap and reining in their rivals.
Giving Ogier and Ingrassia their best chance of a strong result, the number one Fiesta will be fitted with a new aero package to best tackle Finland’s high-speed forests. Sporting a new rear bumper and diffuser for more efficient downforce, the latest evolution is the first visual example of the on-going development between M-Sport and Ford Performance.
Having brought the development to the car in record time, availability restraints mean that only one of the EcoBoost-powered Fiestas will run the latest evolution in Finland, but all three cars remain capable of challenging for the very top results – Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen both delivering impressive performances at the event just 12 months previously.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“It’s been a long break but the hard work hasn’t stopped and the team have been working around the clock to ensure that we had the new aero ready for Finland. It’s just on the one car for the moment, but we’re confident that it will give Sébastien and Julien that little bit extra.
“Our goal for the second half of the season is to reduce the gap to our rivals in all three championships. We’re certainly going to give it our best and I’m confident that we can deliver some strong results over the remaining events – starting in Finland.
“We all know how strong the competition will be, but the Fiesta performed extremely well here last year and we have three drivers who are all more than capable of challenging for the very top results. Sébastien is a previous winner in Finland, Elfyn was second here last year and Teemu came so close to a home podium on what was only his second ever outing in a world rally car.
“I have no doubt that another thrilling Rally Finland awaits, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can deliver this time round.”
RALLY FINLAND: THE GRAVEL GRAND PRIX
Rally Finland is the fastest event on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar. Commonly known as the Gravel Grand Prix, 11 of the 12 fastest rallies in history were held on these blisteringly quick roads and previous winners have been written into rally folklore.
The fast roads are characterised by huge jumps and the crews must deliver pin-point accuracy in pursuit of the top results – technical roads and blind corners over crests demanding the upmost precision.
The pacenotes have to be word perfect, and the set-up has to instil confidence. The unforgiving route does not suffer mistakes and the gaps between the competitors are so close that only a perfect drive is worthy of the top-step of the podium.
This year’s action covers 317.26 kilometres across 23 stomach-churning stages. The action begins on Thursday evening and, in the absence of the legendary Ouninpohja, Ruuhimäki and its closing sequence of jumps may well become the signature stage – closing the rally as the points-paying Power Stage.
Refreshed after the summer break, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia are ready to reignite their championship defence. Ogier entertained fans at Goodwood Festival of Speed and took legendary French rugby star Sébastien Chabal for a spin in his EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC – but now it’s back to business at the equally legendary Rally Finland.
Ogier and Ingrassia have something every driver and co-driver want to achieve – a Rally Finland victory. The pairing won the event in 2013 and will be keen to challenge for another top result this year.
Armed with the latest aerodynamics aboard their Fiesta, the reigning World Champions have everything at their disposal and will be looking for a strong haul of points to rein in the young pretenders to their throne.
Previous starts: 10
Best result: 1st (2013)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“It was nice to have a little break and spend some time relaxing with family and friends, but now the action is ready to resume and we’re fully focused on Rally Finland.
“For so many people this is the highlight of the year and it’s easy to see why. There is an atmosphere here that you don’t get anywhere else and the roads were tailor-made for rallying.
“This is the fastest event on the calendar and at those speeds its mere tenths of a second that you’re fighting for. The competition will be extremely strong, but the engineers and designers from M-Sport and Ford Performance have been working tirelessly to ensure we’re in the best possible position.
“We’ll have some aerodynamic updates on the rear of the car that we hope will give us that little bit extra in terms of performance, but we’ll still have to get absolutely everything right over the course of the weekend if we want to be in the fight for the top results.
“We know that the car was strong here last year and we had a good feeling on the test, but this is a rally that doesn’t forgive even the smallest of mistakes. We’ll certainly give it our best and the goal is always to come home with a strong haul of points.”
The FIA World Rally Championship may have taken a six-week break, but Elfyn Evans couldn’t be long parted from the Fiesta and has been busy behind the wheel.
Making a name for himself on the silver screen, the Welshman appeared in an advert for the all-new road-going Ford Fiesta ST – racing it through the underground tunnels of a salt mine.
A week later, he and co-driver Dan Barritt were back behind the wheel of their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC – navigating the Sussex countyside in a race against time to get to the famous Goodwood Festival of Speed.
But now it’s time for Evans to regain his game face at an event he and Barritt have always performed well at. The pairing secured a second-place finish at last year’s Rally Finland and have every chance of challenging for another podium result next week.
Previous starts: 7
Best result: 2nd (2017)
Elfyn Evans said:
“It feels like a long time since we were last in competition, but we’ve not been sitting idle! The team have been working extremely hard, we’ve had a good test, and I’ve also been doing a lot of PR work with Ford and Red Bull.
“I was involved in an advert for the new Fiesta ST – a great little road car – and also got behind the wheel of the Fiesta WRC to film some promotion with Red Bull ahead of the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The festival itself was great, but now we’re ready to get back to business, and start the second half of the season with one of the highlights of the year – Rally Finland.
“I’d challenge anyone who said they didn’t enjoy driving Finland’s gravel roads in a world rally car! The high speed combined with the technical nature of the stages is incredible, and when you get into a good rhythm it’s a phenomenal feeling.
“We did well here last year and found a good feeling on the test; but the margins for error are so fine and the gaps so small that even the slightest of mistakes can be costly. The competition is going to be strong so we’ll need to be note perfect and deliver a very clean and precise drive. If we can do that, and get everything right, then I’d hope that we’ll be in with a good chance.”
Football might not be coming home, but Teemu Suninen is – home to Finland, home to where he delivered a sensational performance behind the wheel of the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC just 12 months ago.
On what was only his second outing behind the wheel of a top-specification world rally car, last year’s Rally Finland saw Suninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula challenge for their maiden FIA World Rally Championship podium.
This year, they have a chance of bringing that dream to fruition and will be ones to watch through some of the most hair-raising and adrenaline-fueled stages of the year.
Previous starts: 4
Best result: 4th (2017)
Teemu Suninen said:
“We had a really good test and are feeling ready and well prepared for the rally. We drove more than 200 kilometres on our test day – starting with the base set-up my team mates found earlier in the week. All three of us drive with a pretty equal set-up, so there were only some small confirmations to find and the car feels really fast.
“Having come so close last year, the top-three is my ultimate goal. It could be hard to achieve, but we will try our best. At the end it’s such a small margin that decides whether you finish third or sixth!
“Starting the first forest stage last year I was pretty nervous, but as soon as I saw the time and saw that my speed was enough I felt better straight away. This year the rally will be driven on similar roads and we have a very good feeling with the car in the high speed sections. We’ll start the rally as we mean to continue – driving flat-out.”