M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s EcoBosot-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs are making a return to mainland Europe this week – ready to tackle the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship at Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
Having won the event last year, the new-generation Fiesta has proven performance on Portuguese gravel and the team have conducted a six-day test to further perfect set-up configurations ahead of the next European encounter.
The workshop has also been a hive of activity – the technicians having just four days to prepare the fleet of Fiestas when the returning shipment was delayed from Argentina.
Working around the clock – with some technicians forgoing their bank holiday weekend – the cars have been fully prepped and made ready to challenge for the top results at one of the most popular events on the calendar.
RALLY DE PORTUGAL: A MECCA FOR RALLY FANS
Rally de Portugal is one of the most popular events on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar – its gravel stages attracting large numbers on the entry list as well as large numbers out spectating on the stages.
Since returning to the north of the country, the famous Fafe stage has become a mecca for rally fans around the world – many travelling huge distances to sample its unique atmosphere.
Based around the city of Porto, the crews must navigate 20 gravel speed tests – including two passes of Fafe – in hope of securing a strong result.
The route remains largely unchanged from last year, but the familiarity of the terrain is not without its challenges.
The sandy nature of the stages will make road sweeping a trial for the early runners, and deep ruts make it treacherous going for everyone over the second pass.
With the championship closer than ever, everyone will be hunting a top result and another exciting battle certainly awaits.
Despite winning three of the five events contested so far this year, the Fiesta finished just shy of the coveted top-three in Argentina. As the championship returns to Europe, Team Principal Malcolm Wilson is keen to see his team make a return to the podium.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Rally Argentina didn’t go our way, but we came away with some solid points which we have to be happy with. Returning to Europe, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see a return to the podium. It’s a testament to the success we’ve had that the podium is now the minimum we should be aiming for – and I’m extremely proud of that.
“The team have been working hard in the lead up to this one – both away at the test and back home in the workshop – and we’re determined to see that hard work pay off.
“As is the case with every event this year, it won’t be easy. The competition is stronger than ever, but the team is also more determined than ever and we have three drivers all eager to prove what they can do this week.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia have an affiliation with Rally de Portugal. The event played host to their maiden victory in 2010, and the Frenchmen have five Portuguese victories to their name – equalling Markku Alén’s record. Should Ogier and Ingrassia emerge victorious again this week, they will become the most successful pairing in the event’s history.
Having won three of the five events contested so far, the five-time World Champions continue to lead the championship with a 10 point advantage at the head of the field. A strong result to maintain their lead is the pairing’s primary objective this weekend.
Previous starts: 9
Best result: 1st (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“Rally de Portugal holds a lot of special memories for me and it’s an event I look forward to every year. This country lives and breathes motorsport. They have such a passion for it and the atmosphere it creates is something quite unique. It makes a victory here very special and something everyone wants to experience.
“There is no doubt that a lot of drivers will be pushing for the win this week. It will be harder for us opening the road on Friday, but if we have a good run and minimise the time loss we could also be in a strong position.”
EVANS AND BARRITT
Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt may have struggled to find their rhythm as last month’s Rally Argentina, but they’ll be looking for a return to form as the championship returns to Europe.
The Portuguese event has not been kind to the Brits in the past, but they’ll be keen to overcome that this year.
A two-day test in the Portuguese countryside helped regain their confidence, and they’ll be eager to put all they learnt into practice this week.
Previous starts: 6
Best result: 6th (2017)
Elfyn Evans said:
“We’ve done a lot of testing in Portugal over the past couple of months, and that should hopefully work in our favour. We’ve done a lot of work with the engineers and we’ll have a good road position on Friday that we can use to our advantage.
“Next week starts a series of gravel events that I really enjoy and I’m looking forward to competing in Portugal again. The stages here are generally quite twisty and technical, but it’s the atmosphere that sets it apart from other events.
“On stages like Fafe you can’t help but get a sense of the thousands of people who have come to spectate. There’s nothing else quite like it, and I think everyone wants to be pushing for a strong result in front of that crowd.”
SUNINEN AND MARKKULA
Teemu Suninen will be on more familiar territory this week as he and compatriot co-driver Mikko Markkula return to the gravel stages of Rally de Portugal – an event the Finnish pairing have contested together on three previous occasions.
Tackling Rally Argentina for the first time last month, Suninen ensured he finished all of the stages unscathed – gaining vital experience for future success.
But this month the young Finn will be able to showcase a little more of his potential, and will be keen to show his speed through some of the better known stages.
Previous starts: 3
Best result: 12th (2017)
Teemu Suninen said:
"Portugal will be different in the sense that I have competed there before and it is always a bit easier when you know what to expect. It’s the first gravel rally in Europe, and I’m looking forward to it. Even though the average speeds are quite moderate, the roads are really flowing and we have a good feeling so let’s hope the sun is shining on us this week!
“We did a two-day test in the lead-up to the rally and I can feel some improvements already. We have certainly progressed, but I don’t have any definite goals. As always, I’ll just start the rally with the ambition of doing my personal best and if that means a top six result, then I will be satisfied with that.”