Debuting the M-Sport Fiesta Rally2’s new cooling package update, Adrien Fourmaux and Alex Coria flew to victory in the RC2 category on the Central European Rally’s debut event in Passau, Germany. In Rally1, Ott Tänak battled tough conditions to achieve a fantastic third overall, and second consecutive podium on what was the WRC season’s penultimate round.
The first iteration of Central European Rally in the World Rally Championship, wasn’t short of challenges for crews across all of the categories. The varied conditions of the roads in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic contributed to the event’s unique nature, and the wet weather at the start of the event made the already tricky Tarmac stages some of the most challenging seen this season. Despite wet weather the stages welcomed hundreds of thousands of spectators eagerly waiting to watch the best of the rally action.
M-Sport’s star of the weekend was undoubtedly Fourmaux, storming to victory in the RC2 class, thus claiming a career-first category win in WRC. His win was made even more impressive as he picked up an early puncture on the first proper stage of the rally, dropping a minute in time. Not to be downbeat about this he put about setting things right with an opening stage win of the afternoon loop. Navigating the treacherous conditions, by the end of the first full day he had already shot from 15th to fourth in RC2.
But that would be merely a warm-up, Fourmaux heading out on Saturday with a real fire in his belly, delivering a convincing clean sweep of stage wins with some incredibly impressive margins, by the end of the day, taking the overall category lead!
Sunday saw the French pairing start with a lead of 6.5 seconds, but his closest rival, Emil Lindholm would retire on the first road section, meaning Fourmaux had a more comfortable margin of 23 seconds to play with. Exemplifying the performance benefits of the Fiesta Rally2’s new cooling package, Fourmaux was able to maintain his stellar pace he had shown throughout the course of the weekend, taking the class victory, but even more impressively, eighth overall in the event.
Unquestionably his best performance of the year, a culmination of the hard-work and dedication the French driver has put into his Rally2 campaign, his win in Central Europe acts as the perfect precursor to his return to Rally1 machinery in Japan next month.
Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja also negotiated the brand-new event with their usual level of determination and skill, opening the event in Prague on Thursday with the fastest time on the unique Velká Chuchle racecourse stage. Battling the wet conditions on Friday, with no midday service to make alterations to the set-up, Tänak had to adapt to keep fighting at the top of the field. The Estonian’s times remained consistently within the top-five and he would end the day fourth overall, 43.2 seconds adrift of the podium.
Saturday would see him follow the same form, but Tänak would find himself elevated to a podium position after Elfyn Evans went off the road on SS11. Changes at midday service provided a boost for car number eight, helping claim third-fastest on the following stage and missing out on a fastest-time overall by an infinitesimal 0.1 seconds.
Sunday’s goal was to just hold position, and Tänak delivered a careful drive to protect a second consecutive podium finish on the season’s penultimate rally.
Grégoire Munster and Louis Louka impressed highly on their second outing in the Puma, taking the Rally1 to Tarmac for the first time. Crowds saw Munster take to the stages with impressive pace and confidence, forging a tight fight between himself and teammate Pierre Louis-Loubet on the splits on every stage. A completely different experience to his previous outing in Chile last month, Munster has adapted quickly to the aerodynamics of the car on asphalt. His strong performance rewarded him with an impressive seventh overall, whilst impressing many within the service park at the same time.
With not only the challenge of a new event format, Pierre-Louis Loubet was also focused on developing his relationship with new co-driver, Benjamin Veillas. The French pairing performed well, tackling tricky conditions, made even more difficult due to their later road position on Friday. Unfortunately, dropping over four and a half minutes on SS8 due to a spin and subsequent wheel change, Loubet dropped out of contention, but would battle through to the end of the rally to draw a curtain on his season for 2023.
Richard Millener, Team Principal, said:
“Firstly I must give a special mention to Adrien and Alex. To go from 15th to 1st over the course of the weekend is incredible. The culmination of hard work from the team pushing through the Rally2 updates, to his mechanics and engineer giving him the best car and setup, to the crew themselves, showing what they are really capable of - it was all just perfect. I am so happy for them both and they really deserve their chance again in Rally1 next month.
“Ott and Martin scored a second consecutive podium. I think it is fair to say Ott wasn't comfortable in the car in these conditions, so to stay determined and to never give up has seen a second consecutive podium, something we are all very happy to see.
“Gregoire and Louis were really impressive, with so little experience of Rally1 they showed what potential they have, really well done to them both, the smiles on their faces make it obvious to see how they feel!
“And Pierre and Ben, although not the end to the season they hoped, it was a really great year working together and we all hope we can continue that journey in 2024.
“Finally, to the organisers, it is never easy to set up a new event - especially when there are three countries involved, and then when the weather is so tricky! But, they did great - I think this rally has a very strong future and I look forward to returning next year! I hope they all now take some well deserved rest."
Adrien Fourmaux, 1st in RC2, said:
“Really happy about the weekend. Starting with a puncture in stage three we were fifteenth overall, catching all the positions to get the lead on Saturday evening with some fastest times and to win the rally. It was a big push, the car has been fantastic and the team has been working really well on the car, everything was always perfect.
“Thanks to the team, the new cooling package has been working really well. Looking at the times, that for sure helped us this weekend.
“The next challenge in Japan is on the way, but first I want to enjoy this victory.”
Ott Tänak, 3rd Overall, said:
“It’s a great outcome after the weekend so not a bad weekend at all. Staying out of trouble gave us something good back. I would say we weren’t that competitive this weekend but we also didn’t have a great start position on Friday and by lunchtime that day we were already in a position where there was no need to push things further so we focussed on managing the weekend. Let’s see what Japan brings and maybe there is more competition for us.”
Grégoire Munster, 7th Overall, said:
“The rally felt like a big test for me, we drove in wet conditions, mixed conditions with mixed tyre packages and then we drove on dry on the last day with a mixed tyre package, even using the hard tyres at a certain point. We did some good stage times I think, so that was a bit like the cherry on the cake. The team did a great job and I think I can say that I felt pretty confident straight away with the Puma and it’s a really positive point about the car that you feel comfortable straight away. We did a personal best stage time with a fourth place even with a stall in a hairpin so it could have been even better but all in all happy with the performance.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet, 10th Overall, said:
“It’s been a very big weekend on the new event, it’s been a lot of work. Very demanding for us with the new co-driver, Benjamin, but everything was working well even if it’s been very tough for him with the notes.
“A bit disappointed about our small off on Friday which cost us four minutes, but without that we can say the pace was not so bad. A bit unfortunate about the issue with the clutch or the diff this morning, but that’s part of the rally and let’s see for the future if we’re able to be there!”
Published 29th October 2023