M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm are fighting for the lead of this weekend’s ACI Rally Monza – their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC currently holding second place at the FIA World Rally Championship finale.
Putting his circuit-racing experience to good use, Lappi climbed into second place on the first stage of the morning (SS2) before an inspired tyre choice saw him jump into pole position on the very next speed test (SS3).
As heavy rain fell continuously, the Finn was the first to opt for Michelin’s snow tyre – using the deep grooves to full effect and dispelling the standing water to go 7.9 seconds quicker than anyone else.
Following Lappi’s example, his rivals soon followed suit but the Finn remained at the top of the timesheets. Topped only by rally-leader Sordo, there remains all to play for heading into tomorrow’s mountain stages, with the Fiesta driver just a second shy of the lead.
Teemu Suninen and Jarmo Lehtinen were also on course for a strong result – 2.6 seconds up on their teammate after the first split of the day. But that would prove the young Finn’s only chance to showcase his speed – his Fiesta picking up a misfire just six kilometres in.
M-Sport’s dedicated team of engineers and technicians refused to give up the fight – trying a variety of solutions over a number of services to get Suninen back in the game. But as the issue worsened, it proved insurmountable even for the M-Sport mechanics – a bore scope inside the engine confirming internal damage and forcing an undeserved retirement.
After a steady start, Gus Greensmith and Elliott Edmondson were also finding their pace – fourth fastest through the second stage of the day (SS3) before their charge was also cut short by the smallest of mistakes.
Clipping a gate post 6.9 kilometres into the stage, the Brits damaged the front-right suspension which brought their day to an untimely end. They will however restart ahead of tomorrow’s mountain stages.
Elsewhere, Adrien Fourmaux and Renaud Jamoul were continuing where they left off at last weekend’s Rally Islas Canarias. Relishing the tricky conditions, their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 was in a class of its own in the WRC 2 category – eking outing a commanding lead and running as high as eighth overall before the penultimate stage of the day.
Picking up a right-ear puncture on the first corner of the fifth stage, the pairing fell from first to third in class. But thanks to their impressive performance earlier in the day they remain just 6.8 seconds adrift of the lead with all to play for tomorrow.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“It’s been a fantastic day for Esapekka and great to see the Fiesta back at the top of the timesheets. He’s really excelled in these conditions and his choice to go on the snow tyres was brilliant – so brilliant in fact that everyone else decided to do the same in the next stages! There’s still a long and difficult day to go, but Esapekka definitely deserves a good result here. We know he’ll give it his best, and he’s already given the team the boost we all needed to close the season.
“Teemu also looked on course to deliver a strong rally this weekend and was actually up on the splits before picking up an engine issue through the early stages. All credit to our engineers and technicians who tried everything they could to resolve the issue. But as it worsened, it became clear that it was internal and we were left with no option but to retire.
“There was bad luck for Gus too. After a bit of a cautious start he was getting back on the pace and fourth fastest through the stage before clipping a post and damaging the suspension. Thankfully the lads should be able to get the car fixed in service this evening, and we’ll see him back out on the stages tomorrow.
“And in WRC 2, Adrien was having a brilliant drive – outperforming his rivals stage after stage. He was unfortunate to pick up a puncture this afternoon, but he had such a good morning that he’s still only 6.8 seconds away from the lead and really hungry for that victory! He was strong in Monte at the start of the year, and hopefully we’ll see that again as we head into the mountains tomorrow.”
Esapekka Lappi (2nd) said:
“It’s been a very good day for us. It’s been a while since we were in this position and it doesn’t even matter that we’re not leading at the end of the day – just to be here challenging for that lead is a really positive thing for the whole team. We have a good starting position for tomorrow, and we will definitely try and take back the lead. We have nothing to lose and I will try to do my best. We know that it will be a very tricky day, but normally I am quite good on snow so let’s see what we can do.”
Teemu Suninen (DNF) said:
“I was struggling with the rhythm yesterday, but today started well and we had a really good feeling in the car. The first sector was quick, but after that we had an issue with the engine. I want to say thanks to the team who tried everything to try and fix it, but in the end it proved terminal and we had to retire. It’s a real shame as I had a good rhythm this morning and looking at EP we could have been really strong here. Hopefully EP can continue as he is and bring home a good result for the team – we all deserve that after this tough year.”
Gus Greensmith (Restart) said:
“After a bit of a cautious start we made some set-up changes and it felt a lot better. Then nothing silly – I just went through a gate post and my wheel was too open. I tapped the inside post and it pulled the whole suspension. It was a bad outcome for a small mistake, but it is what it is and we’ll aim to get back out there tomorrow.”
Adrien Fourmaux (2nd WRC 2) said:
“It was a great start to the rally for us with very good pace. Unfortunately we had a puncture in the fifth stage; the first time we used the snow tyres! That was really bad luck, but honestly I am still very happy and positive about my pace. The conditions were very tricky and we were able to set some really competitive times on the wet tyres while almost all of the other drivers were on the snow tyres.
“Tomorrow will be another really challenging day, but in Monte-Carlo we had very good pace with the Fiesta and I hope it will be the same here. We’re still really close to the lead and we are hungry for a good result – but there is still a long and difficult way to go and many things can happen!”