M-Sport are leading the way on the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship – currently holding a one-two courtesy of Sébastien Ogier and Ott Tänak at the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo.
The pairing had already been on course for a double podium, but when rally-leader Thierry Neuville made a mistake, the stakes were raised and the Ford Fiesta WRC pairing are now on the cusp of an historic result and M-Sport’s first victory since the 2012 edition of Wales Rally GB.
The first competitive outing for the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC has proved a great success, but there remain 53.72 competitive kilometres before the Cumbrian squad can claim their fairy tale ending.
As well as holding the top two positions, all three Fiestas have secured fastest stage times – three for Ogier, one for Tänak and a further three for Elfyn Evans.
The team is also the only manufacturer to have secured a one-two on individual stage performances – not once, not twice, but three times.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“One day to go, and we’re currently one-two at Rallye Monte-Carlo. We have to keep telling ourselves that and I cannot praise the efforts of the entire team enough.
“Commiserations have to be given to Thierry who had been setting a stunning pace. It acts as a reminder to all of us that this is Monte, any anything can still happen. It’s going to be a nervous 53 kilometres tomorrow, but we all know what we need to do and I cannot even begin to explain how much our team deserves it.
“We’ve had another really strong day and proven that we have an extremely competitive base car in the Ford Fiesta WRC. All three cars have secured stage victories and we’re the only manufacturer to have secured one-twos on individual stages – not once, not twice, but three times.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
The Ford Fiesta WRC might be new to Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, but the World Champions are the masters of Rallye Monte-Carlo and are now just 53.72 kilometres away from securing a fourth consecutive victory at the legendary event.
With limited seat time in advance of the rally, the pairing has had to discover many new things this weekend – making their performance all the more impressive.
Becoming more accustomed to the Fiesta, Ogier has paired progression with intelligence – using his vast experience to full effect and yielding results.
Meticulously analysing each stage performance, the Frenchman applied his findings and posted a string of competitive times which included a stage win on the second pass of ‘Lardier Et Valenca – Oze 2’ (SS11).
There remains work to do, but for now, Ogier is on course to christen his new partnership with the M-Sport team in style.
SS9: 2nd (+2.6)
SS10: 6th (+14.0)
SS12: 2nd (+7.4)
SS13: 2nd (+1.7)
Sébastien Ogier (1st) said:
“One month ago we started a new project with M-Sport. We knew we had no time to prepare and we knew that it would be a big challenge to fight for the victory this weekend. But I felt some potential in the Fiesta and now, to be in the lead of our first event together at Rallye Monte-Carlo, it feels amazing.
“Of course I’m sorry for Thierry as he was doing a great job, but that is the way this rally goes sometimes. The last 53 kilometres are going to feel very, very long. We’ve seen a lot of really tricky conditions and tomorrow won’t be any easier. We need to finish the job and it would be incredible to start this new chapter with a victory.”
TÄNAK AND JÄRVEOJA
Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja are proving a force to be reckoned with. In their first FIA World Rally Championship event together, the Estonians are on course to secure a strong second place at Rallye Monte-Carlo.
After showing consistently strong pace throughout yesterday’s stages, Tänak displayed real maturity and composure today.
In the tricky conditions, he and Järveoja adopted a cautious approach and successfully managed a potential downshift issue before returning their Ford Fiesta WRC to service where the technicians could replace the gearbox as a precaution.
Thanks to a near-perfect blend of speed and poise, the pairing are on course to get their season off to a stunning start – equalling Tänak’s best ever performance behind the wheel of a world rally car.
SS9: 5th (+20.2)
SS10: 5th (+7.4)
SS11: 5th (+20.8)
SS12: 4th (+14.1)
SS13: 5th (+10.0)
Ott Tänak (2nd) said:
“It’s been a big challenge – the biggest I’ve ever had in Monte – but we’re in a really strong position and it feels good… it feels really good actually!
“We’ve put three tricky days behind us and we just have one more to go. Of course in Monte it’s never over until it’s over so we just need to keep focused and be smart.
“So far the performance has been good and the feeling inside the car has been really nice as well. All we need to do now is keep our fingers crossed and keep going.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE M-SPORT TEAM
Elsewhere in the M-Sport Team, Éric Camilli maintains fourth place in the WRC 2 category. The Frenchman and his compatriot co-driver Benjamin Veillas were hoping to secure a podium position this weekend before losing four minutes in an off-road excursion yesterday afternoon.
With some challenging conditions expected for tomorrow’s final four stages, there remains all to play for and home advantage could see Camilli well-placed for the final day of competition.
Éric Camilli (4th WRC 2) said:
“It’s not been a bad day and we are still here which is the most important thing. This morning we went a little too hard with the set-up but we corrected that for the afternoon and it felt a lot better. There’s still a long way to go and you never know what will happen in Monte. We just need to stay focused and keep going.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE SERVICE PARK
Elsewhere in the service park, Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt had a hugely successful day behind the wheel of their DMACK-clad Ford Fiesta WRC – currently holding sixth place overall.
Securing more stage wins that anyone else, the Welshman set the fastest time on three of the day’s five speed tests and was untouchable through the second pass of ‘La Batie Montsaleon – Faye’ (SS12) – 7.4 seconds faster than his closest rival.
In the WRC 2 category, Bryan Bouffier holds a strong third place behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta R5.
Going head-to-head with two-time rally-winner Andreas Mikkelsen, the Frenchmen secured two stage victories on both the first and second pass of ‘La Batie Montsaleon – Faye’ (SS10 and SS12).
1. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 3:26:10.7
2. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +47.1
3. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:20.6
4. Craig Breen / Scott Martin (Citroen DS3 WRC) +3:47.3
5. Dani Sordo / Marc Marti (Hyundai 120 Coupe WRC) +4:03.2
6. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +7:27.2
7. Andreas Mikkelsen / Anders Jaeger (Škoda Fabia R5) +9:15.2
8. Jan Kopecky / Pavel Dresler (Škoda Fabia R5) +12:34.4
9. Bryan Bouffier / Denis Giraudet (Ford Fiesta R5) +14:41.9
10. Pontus Tidemand / Jonas Andersson (Škoda Fabia R5) +14:59.3