M-Sport Ford World Rally Team heads to Rally Italia Sardegna next week (June 3-6) on a high after landing its best result so far in this season’s FIA World Rally Championship in Portugal last weekend.
Gus Greensmith took his EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC to fifth place on Rally de Portugal courtesy of eight top-five stage times, while team-mate Adrien Fourmaux completed his event debut and his first start on gravel in a World Rally Car in sixth place, with the Frenchman going second quickest twice on the final day.
With the dust still settling on that impressive Portuguese showing, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team assembles in Sardinia for the second of four consecutive gravel rounds with a tweaked, but equally promising, driver line-up.
After finishing runner-up in the WRC2 category on Rally de Portugal, Teemu Suninen takes over the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC Fourmaux drove last week, with Fourmaux reverting to the Rally2 Fiesta driven by Suninen. Gus Greensmith will partner Suninen in the main M-Sport Ford World Rally Team attack.
After running in October last season, Rally Italia Sardegna returns to its more traditional June date and to Olbia, the event’s home when it joined the WRC schedule for the first time in 2004 until Alghero became host in 2014.
The move has led to several route changes, starting with a new shakedown stage in Loiri, the return of leg two’s Bortigiadas – Aggius – Viddalba for first time since 2005, albeit significantly revised since it was last used, plus a revamped Sunday leg. This includes the all-new Aglientu – Santa Teresa test and a tweaked Arzachena – Braniatogghiu stage.
While the route, which totals 303.10 kilometres over 20 stages, has been adjusted, the challenge of competing in Sardinia remains just as intense. The island’s roads are twisty and technical in parts but fast and undulating in others. Often lined with trees and rocks, dust hanging above the narrow tracks raises the difficulty level, while the soft sandy surface puts the onus on running order in dry conditions.
The hard base can also trigger an increase in tyre wear, particularly on the second pass and when the ambient and ground temperatures are at their highest.
Following the ceremonial start in Alghero on Thursday June 3, Friday’s action starts with twin visits to Filigosu – Sa Conchedda and Terranova, followed by two runs through Tempio Pausania and Erula – Tula either side of service in Olbia.
Saturday’s route, the longest of the rally at 129.62 kilometres, includes Coiluna – Loelle and Lerno – Monti di Ala’, which are used twice in the morning, followed by double passes of Bortigiadas – Aggius – Viddalba and Sedini – Castelsardo in the afternoon after a service break in Olbia. Lerno – Monti di Ala’ features the legendary Micky’s Jump and is a spectacle like no other.
The event is decided over two repeated stages on Sunday (June 6) with the second run through Aglientu – Santa Teresa counting as the points-paying Wolf Power Stage. Its coastal setting promises spectacular views for audiences watching the action live around the world.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“Rally de Portugal once again underlined the potential of our young drivers and we are excitedly waiting to see even more progression from them in Sardinia, where we have achieved strong results in the past.
“It’s by no means an easy rally with tyre and car preservation two important factors our drivers must consider. But they all have experience of the Sardinian roads and are more than aware of the challenges they will face.
“We are pleased to give Teemu another opportunity to demonstrate his pace in a World Rally Car. He drove excellently on the opening day in Sardinia last year and there’s no reason why he can’t deliver a similar performance next week. Of course, he’ll be using the Pirelli gravel tyre for the first time but he’s a very capable driver, so we have no worries that he’ll adapt.
“Gus did everything expected of him and more in Portugal and was unlucky not to be in the podium fight. But he kept his composure and delivered a succession of top stage times.
“Croatia and Portugal were all about Adrien gaining experience in the WRC. For Sardinia he has a different job to do, which is to show the performance of the Fiesta Rally2 and fight for the victory in WRC2, which he’s more than capable of doing.”
Greensmith has experience from two Sardinia starts, once at Rally2 level and last year in an EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC. After excelling in Portugal, the 24-year-old Briton will be aiming high again in Sardinia. With Chris Patterson unavailable for personal reasons, Stuart Loudon will perform co-driving duties on a one-off basis. The 33-year-old from Scotland is vastly experienced and forms part of Greensmith’s gravel-note crew on asphalt rounds of the WRC. He also co-drove Greensmith on ADAC Rallye Deutschland in 2018.
Gus Greensmith said:
“Portugal was just about getting back to where I can be and I’m hoping for more of the same in Sardinia. Although it’s more technical, Sardinia is fairly similar to Portugal in that we’ll start the rally on the set-up I finished Portugal with, which worked well.
“The set-up is a very similar premise to Portugal. We want the car to be driving from the front, we don’t want to be losing time sliding because the stages are so narrow and twisty and technical that the more you are facing forward the faster you are going. We know the car can be fast here from previous years and both Teemu and I can count on good road positions for day one. I’ve not had much luck on this rally so I’m hoping for third time lucky.
“Chris can’t attend for personal reasons but I’ve competed with Stuart before in Germany. We did a few stage-winning times so clearly we’re pretty hand in a car together.”
For Suninen, the opportunity to return to the World Rally Car category in Sardinia serves as a return to familiar ground. A podium finisher in the WRC’s top tier on three occasions – including on the island event in 2019 – Suninen, 27, has made five starts in Sardinia and led before holding second place throughout the opening leg on last year’s edition.
Teemu Suninen said:
“I’ve always enjoyed driving in Sardinia. It’s on the rough side of a gravel rally but the car can take the roughness, although you need to manage your tyre wear and that will be a big point. Normally I have had good results in Sardinia. I won’t try the Pirelli tyre until shakedown, which is a challenge, but I will take the challenge and get the maximum out of the weekend.
“It helps that we start in Sardinia straight after Portugal, but the others will have a one-week advantage over me because I did Portugal in the Rally2 car. They know the whole package and there’s not much I can do about that so I need to make a big difference out of my road position, which will be good for the first day if it stays dry.
“I’m really excited to be back in the Ford Fiesta WRC. It’s enjoyable to drive and I would say it’s easier going from the Rally2 to the WRC rather than in the other direction. We have the aero and it’s easier to go with the paddleshift. But it’s easier to wear out the tyres because we have 100hp more and you can have too much wheelspin. That can make the rally more difficult but I’m here to learn the tyres and have a clean rally.”
Fourmaux, 26, is no stranger to the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 having taken three WRC2 podiums on gravel events in the car last season. He can also count on knowledge gained from two previous starts in Sardinia.
Adrien Fourmaux said:
“I will discover again the Rally2 Fiesta after two rallies in the World Rally Car. But it’s my third time in Sardinia and I expect to be able to fight with the top drivers in WRC2 and why not fight for the win. I hope with the knowledge of the car that I have from before that I will be able to adapt quite quickly. Even if it’s a different car to the WRC, it’s still four-wheel drive. But the big difference is the speed in the very fast sections. Without all the aero of the World Rally Car it can be a bit less stable but then we have less power so it’s not a problem. We use the paddle to change the gears with the WRC car but in the Rally2 we use the gear stick, so I have to remember to change my habits. I can be very proud of my performances in Croatia and Portugal, where I had to discover everything. Now I have a different job to do, but I am confident I can do it well so I get more chances in the World Rally Car in the future.”