The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team showcased resilience on the highly demanding Rally Estonia, the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Despite bouts of bad luck, the crews further proved the speed of the Puma Rally1 on gravel, claiming two fastest stage times and a further four top-three times.
The notoriously tricky, fast gravel roads always pose a big challenge, but the changing weather conditions combined with misfortune would get the better of many of the crews throughout the weekend.
Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux, after a difficult start to the season, would claim his best finish so far, seventh overall, and combined with a stage win on Saturday this would see him top the ranks of the M-Sport crews.
After an exceptional start on Thursday evening’s super special in Tartu, team leader Craig Breen claimed the opening stage win in front of thousands of fever-filled Estonian fans. Breen would maintain this pace into Friday morning, until a telegraph pole concealed in the grass turned a small slide wide into a day-ending incident. Back on the road on Saturday, Breen continued to show the competitiveness of both himself and the car, setting consistent times within the top-five throughout the day. After his first day retirement, Breen would focus all his efforts on the all-important Power Stage. Bad luck would again strike, the Irishman being caught in some of the heaviest rain that would fall during the stage, the weather would cause his windscreen to fog up and any chance of the additional points was lost.
Star of the season so far, Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet struggled to find his rhythm over the course of the weekend, and a light roll-on Saturday afternoon in slippery wet conditions, combined with hitting a rock on the inside of a corner on the opening Sunday stage, would force him to retire from the event. He will re-focus and prepare for Finland in only 10 days’ time.
Gus Greensmith would also have a tricky weekend, setting good initial pace, a puncture which he was forced to change in the stage, combined with a drivehshaft issue on Sunday morning would also force the retirement of car #44 from the event. Again, Gus and Jonas look forward to proving their speed on the fast roads of Finland.
In the WRC2 category, Jari Huttunen’s stage win on Thursday evening unfortunately led into an equally challenging weekend in his Fiesta Rally2, but the Finn would maintain a consistent pace to finish the event just short of the podium.
Richard Millener, Team Principal, said:
“It’s fair to say that this hasn’t been our weekend, but there are still positives we can take from the performances we’ve seen. Despite Craig’s bad luck early on, he made a strong return on Saturday morning and continues to prove the pace of this car. Adrien has done the same and it’s been nice to see him really start to feel comfortable and get back up into the positions we know he can achieve.
“The weather hasn’t done us any favours, and the conditions were a lot tougher than we expected. The rain caught us out a few times, bringing on a lot of mud and causing a few problems for the crews, particularly in the power stage where we unfortunately missed out on points. It’s a shame, but sometimes it’s just the way it goes. We now look forward to Finland in a couple of weeks.”
Adrien Fourmaux, seventh overall, said:
“I would say it was a really strong rally for me, my first one in Estonia with a top-level rally car against drivers with a lot of experience. I can be really happy with the pace we’ve shown to be able to fight for fifth position.
“It has been an interesting rally, it’s nice to build some confidence on this kind of surface, which has been tricky with the rain as well! The weather has been crazy throughout the weekend, especially in the last stage where unfortunately we lost sixth position, but I will definitely be taking the positives from this rally.”
Craig Breen, thirtieth overall, said:
“Bit of a difficult weekend, honestly. Already from Friday, things were going against us. The speed was really good, the car is working well and I felt in a good rhythm.
“Today we tried to push for some points on the power stage, but we got caught right in the middle of the storm. No points for us today, but bring on Finland in a couple of weeks’ time. The car feels great and hopefully we can get a good result there.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet, retired Sunday, said:
“I don’t know what to say, I just made a stupid mistake today. On Friday when we lost sixth place, we had been in a good position, so it was shame to lose time on that last stage. I was uncomfortable throughout the rest of the weekend after that.
“This morning, I was more focused on the next corner than the previous one, I was thinking about the next one because it was a corner I didn’t like. It’s all on me, and it’s a mistake I won’t be making again because on this event you can’t get away with it.”
Gus Greensmith, retired Sunday, said:
“A tricky weekend – Friday didn’t start great but became much better in the afternoon. The plan for Saturday was to fight for sixth, but we had a puncture quite early on, so the day was mainly just about learning.
“There were a few things we wanted to try for Sunday, just to make some small improvements for Finland, but we had a problem with the driveshaft, so we had to retire the car for the day.”
Jari Huttunen, fourth overall, WRC2, said:
“It was a difficult weekend. In the special stages we had the fastest times, which is great, but in some of the other stages we struggled.
“We are both looking forward to Finland, but that is another challenge of course. For sure it won’t be easy, but it will be different at least.”
Published 17 July 2022