M-Sport Ford World Rally Team venture to the frozen north this week as the FIA World Rally Championship makes its Arctic Circle debut at the newly-formed Arctic Rally Finland.
Contesting the only full-snow event of the year, the team will field two EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs for Teemu Suninen and Gus Greensmith, as well as an EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 for Adrien Fourmaux in the WRC 2 Championship.
Two additional Ford Fiesta WRCs have also been entered for Lorenzo Bertelli and Janne Tuohino, and Martin Prokop will join Fourmaux for a WRC 2 campaign with the Fiesta Rally2.
Rallying is known for its extremes, and this week will see the team subject to temperatures as low as -30˚C. Limited hours of daylight in the Finnish forests will also see some stages run under the cover of darkness – making the challenge as tough as it will be spectacular!
As man and machine combat the intense conditions, the Fiestas will reach incredible speeds with Pirelli’s Sottozero Ice tyres biting through the snow to capture incredible grip on the hard ice below.
The crews can also use the snowbanks to their advantage – guiding their Fiestas through the corners to bolster their speed. But misjudge the art by leaning too hard, and they risk being dragged into the bank with nothing but a snow shovel to dig themselves free!
Arctic Rally Finland has all the making of a true classic, and the team are in the midst of a pre-event test – each driver enjoying a full day at the wheel as they get to grips with the ultimate winter playground and the art of arctic rallying.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“Ever since this event was announced, everyone has been looking forward to it. The conditions look perfect, and I’ve not spoken to a single person who isn’t looking forward to the challenge and spectacle we’re expecting in Rovaniemi – so hats off to the organising team for putting everything together in such a short space of time!
“As for our team, we’re currently in the midst of a pre-event test in the north of Finland – with each driver getting a full day behind the wheel. Snow rallies are all about confidence, and at these speeds you can lose a lot of time if you’re not feeling comfortable behind the wheel. That’s why it’s so important for the drivers to have a good test – to get the experience, but also to build confidence with the new tyres and the new conditions, and find a set-up that will enhance that confidence throughout the rally.
“The competition will be extremely strong, but we saw a glimpse of what Teemu was capable of in Monte and we’ve assured him of our own confidence in his ability. It would be great to see some more strong times coming from him this week, and when the conditions are at their most tricky that is where I think we will see him show what he can do.
“Gus and Adrien have very little experience on snow when compared to their rivals, so this rally will be all about focusing on their own performance and progress. We want to see them improve as the weekend goes on, but we also want to see them have fun. Malcolm has always said that a driver delivers more speed when they’re enjoying their driving – and that’s what we want to help all three crews achieve this week.”
Suninen may be competing on home soil, but the young Finn only has one previous encounter of rallying in the Arctic Circle – piloting a Ford Fiesta R2 as part of the Finnish Fiesta Sport Trophy in 2014. That said, he’s no slouch on the white stuff and famously led his first WRC event with the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC at Rally Sweden in 2019. And while Suninen isn’t overly experienced in the arctic, co-driver Mikko Markkula has contested events in the region on seven previous occasions – most recently finishing fourth overall last month.
Teemu Suninen said:
“I really like winter rallying but I don’t have a lot of experience in the Arctic Circle. I competed there with the Fiesta R2 in 2014, but luckily Mikko has been there a lot and I hope his experience will help. We also had a test last weekend to better understand the conditions and how the new tyres work in snow and ice.
“The rally will be new for almost everyone, and it will be even faster than Sweden with even narrower, trickier roads. There will also be quite a lot of compressions and bumps where the ground freezes, and that will be a big challenge for the drivers and teams when it comes to finding the best set-up.
“My starting position is pretty good, but sometimes we can see the snow become really dusty which won’t be good for us. It’s so soft, that it can hang in the air and cause problems with visibility like we see on some gravel rallies!
“But hopefully all will be good and my aim is to deliver the best possible result. Friday’s stage is the most challenging, and I think this is where we can show our speed – where it’s the most technical and tricky, especially in the dark.”
Gus Greensmith may have only contested two snow rallies in his career, but the young Brit is keen to gain further experience of winter rallying. Getting their first taste of the Arctic conditions at last weekend’s pre-event test, Greensmith and co-driver Elliott Edmondson will focus on learning the art of winter rallying and how to best use the studded tyres and snow banks to their advantage.
Gus Greensmith said:
“I think everyone is looking forward to this week’s event and the ultimate winter rally playground. I’ve not done a lot of snow rallies, but what I have done I’ve really enjoyed and – being in the Arctic Circle – this one is going to be on a completely different level.
“We’ve not had a lot of snow in the championship over the past few years, but there’ll be no shortage of it in Rovaniemi and I’m really looking forward to the experience – learning how to use those big snow banks and how to extract the most from the studded tyres on the snow and ice.
“We had a full day testing last weekend to really get to grips with the conditions and learn as much as we could about winter rallying. But I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself this week. This rally is all about focusing on ourselves – on improving our pace over the course of the weekend and having fun doing it.”
Adrien Fourmaux is a big fan of rallying on ice and snow, but his experience of winter rallies has been few and far between. Having contested just two full-snow rallies in his career, Fourmaux and co-driver Renaud Jamoul will have their work cut out against an experienced field in the WRC 2 category – but the young Frenchman has proved himself a quick learner time and again. And before testing his competition Fiesta Rally2 this week, the young Frenchman will also have an opportunity to get behind the wheel of the top-specification Fiesta – experiencing the ultimate speed sensation on ice and snow.
Adrien Fourmaux said:
“I’m a big fan of winter rallying. I’ve not done a lot of driving on snow and ice, but what I have done I’ve really enjoyed and this week is going to be such an amazing adventure – driving these amazing cars, at amazing speeds, in incredible conditions!
“I think the roads will be very different to what we have experienced in Sweden over the past few years. Of course there will be a lot more snow and bigger snow banks, but also the roads will be a lot bumpier with some very long, fast corners.
“We’re due to test with the Fiesta Rally2 later this week, but before that I’ll also have an opportunity to test the Fiesta WRC which is something I’m really looking forward to. Experiencing the sensation of driving a world rally car on ice and snow is going to be amazing, and I hope it will help me gain some speed and confidence ahead of the rally.
“Of course I will always push for the best possible result, but there will be a lot of really talented and experienced guys in the RC2 class. We have people like Andreas Mikkelsen and Esapekka Lappi who have both won rallies at the highest level, and with my experience it will be really difficult to challenge them. But the positive is that they will provide a really strong marker for us – and we’ll be able to see straight away what we need to aim for.”