M-Sport Ford World Rally Team stars Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux have returned to one of the most iconic events in World Rally Championship history, the Safari Rally, and ended the first day in style. After the first full day’s action the pair are fighting towards the front in their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs.
Ford and M-Sport won the last WRC event to be held in Kenya in 2002, when Colin McRae powered his Ford Focus to glory. With a history of success dating back to 1955, when Vic Preston Snr took honours in a Ford Zephyr, Ford’s young stars of the 2021 season acquitted themselves admirably as they experienced the rough and rugged terrain for the first time in their careers.
A cautious start on Thursday evening’s 4.84 km superspecial stage saw Greensmith and co-driver Chris Patterson in seventh place while Fourmaux and co-driver Renaud Jamoul took tenth after the spectator-friendly showpiece.
Friday brought two loops of classic African stages: long and fast as the field traversed gruelling terrain which took a heavy toll on the cars’ suspension, tyres and transmissions. With the first two stages negotiated cleanly, Greensmith stood in fifth place and Fourmaux in sixth, positions which would be held until the mid-day service.
In the afternoon all three stages were run again, when both Greensmith and Fourmaux enjoyed a spirited battle with seven-time WRC champion Sebastien Ogier.
The day ended with the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team retaining fifth and sixth place, with Fourmaux setting the third fastest time on the final stage of the day with both Ford Fiesta WRC cars within striking distance of the leaders.
M-Sport Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“We knew that the Safari was going to be a difficult rally and that has played out with the retirements and mechanical difficulties that have happened to other teams. Our game plan from the beginning has been to take a measured approach in order to get to the end and our guys have driven a perfect event so far from that perspective.
“We’ve seen both cars survive some tyre issues already, with two punctures for Gus and a split tyre for Adrien. The approach that the drivers have taken and their ability to focus has been incredibly impressive despite the very different conditions that Kenya brings to what they have experienced before.
“Their determination to get through to the finish is impressive. Although our aim is primarily to be there at the finish, I think it’s clear to see from the stage times that they are both well capable of running close to the ultimate pace being shown on this event. ”
Gus Greensmith (5th) said:
“On most gravel rallies we have an ideal start position but on this ground it’s so soft and sandy in many places that we are actually at a bit of a disadvantage compared to the early runners. It’s a lot to learn, but I am delighted to be here, the Safari is a bucket list event for any driver and I am drinking in the experience.
“Fifth place overall is of course right where we want to be at this stage and it was encouraging to see the gap closing between my times and those of the leaders as the day went on.
“The team did a fantastic job to check the car in service and unfortunately it cost us a time penalty but we were able to press on through the afternoon loop. When the surface breaks up it’s a bit crazy, but then it’s also unusual to see warthogs and giraffes roaming around at the side of the stage as well!”
Adrien Fourmaux (6th) said:
“This is a legendary event and to experience it for the first time is like nothing that I have driven before. To be in a good position at the end of Day 1 is a big positive but you have to focus inside rather than worry too much about the times.
“You have to be careful with the car because there are so many areas of the stages that are crazy with how rough the ground is. We are running the suspension as high as we can but very stiff to protect the car from damage underneath, but the trade-off is that you lose grip. Even in the sections where you think you can push a little there are potentially things you can’t see so it’s nervous but enjoyable.
“On the last stage of the day I felt comfortable and was able to increase my pace on many sections because the road conditions were right for us to push a little more. I want to keep my pace for the whole weekend and then we will see what position that gives us at the end.“