M-Sport’s fleet of Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiestas will don their asphalt trim next week as the FIA World Rally Championship ventures to the fourth round of the season at the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse.
Getting the crews comfortable and confident on another new surface, the team completed a comprehensive five-day test in Corsica last week. Specifically targeting set-up, the three crews covered more than 1,200 kilometres with particular attention to damper set-up and event-specific configurations.
Fully prepared, the team are focused on securing another strong result at an event which holds special significance.
Working alongside the FFSA, M-Sport continues to strengthen a successful ladder of opportunity which offers a route from grass-root to top-level rallying.
This year’s Tour de Course will showcase every rung on this highly effective ladder with the Ford Fiesta R2 National, Ford Fiesta R2, Ford Fiesta R5 and Ford Fiesta WRC all on the entry list and all striving to achieve the same ultimate goal – an FIA World Rally Championship laurel.
TOUR DE CORSE: THE RALLY OF 10,000 CORNERS
Known as the rally of 10,000 corners, the Tour de Corse provides a solid test of endurance, focus and adaptability.
As the first pure-asphalt event on the calendar, the Corsican fixture has an individuality which sets it apart from all other events. Endurance stages are framed by beautiful landscapes which have dubbed the island as the ‘Ile de Beauté,’ but the picturesque scenery masks a daunting challenge.
The tight and twisty roads demand respect – often bordered by sharp rock faces on one side, and steep drops into the sea on the other. The abrasive asphalt also places high demands on tyres and the strategists will have to be on top-form as they go head-to-head with the island’s unpredictable forecasts.
For the crews themselves, focus is key with the co-drivers having to deliver more pacenotes than at any other event. Driver, co-driver, team and car must all work in complete synchronicity should they want to challenge for the top results, and the smallest of mistakes rarely go unpunished.
With M-Sport leading both the driver and manufacturer standings, Team Principal Malcolm Wilson is keen to see the team’s strong showing continue throughout the field.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“We’ve had a fantastic start to the season and it’s great to see such a wide range of M-Sport products in competition at next week’s Tour de Corse. We’ve worked extremely hard to produce an effective ladder of opportunity for rallying’s future stars and it’s rewarding to see so many levels of that initiative in competition next week.
“I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the whole field and I think we have the potential to deliver some strong results throughout all of the classes.
“In the main field, the team are feeling optimistic about the challenges ahead. When the Ford Fiesta WRC was last in asphalt trim at Rallye Monte-Carlo, all three cars secured stage victories and we have further developed the car and set-up since then.
“We certainly have the potential to deliver another strong performance and that has to be our aim. But we’re under no illusions. We know how challenging this event can be and a strong result won’t come without the continued hard work from every single member of the team.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia made their competitive debut in the FIA World Rally Championship in 2008, but they got their first taste of the action when piloting the Course Car at the 2007 edition of the Tour de Corse.
Returning to the island for their fourth competitive outing this year, the Frenchmen lead the way in the championship standings and will be looking for another strong result at an event which holds special significance – supported by the FFSA whose Rallye Jeunes programme kick-started Ogier’s career in 2005.
Claiming victory at the event last year, Ogier and Ingrassia know what it takes to deliver and will be working to achieve a similarly strong result behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta WRC.
Previous starts: 3 (plus once as course car)
Best result: 1st (2016)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“We’ve had a nice few weeks since Rally Mexico – combining work with time at home – and now we’re ready to tackle the Tour de Corse. It was nice to spend some time with my family and to enjoy some skiing out on the slopes, but we also had a good test to find the best set-up for what are very unique stages in Corsica.
“We’re back to asphalt and I had a good feeling with the Fiesta in Monte-Carlo, but this event offers a completely different surface which demands a slightly different approach. Working with the team, we were able to explore a lot of different settings with the dampers and centre-differential which I hope will see us well placed to challenge for another strong result next week.
“We’ve seen some very close battles this year, and I expect that to continue. We’ll certainly be doing our best to be in the battle, and the ultimate goal will be to come out on top. It won’t be easy, but the Tour de Corse never is. Even if the route remains very similar to last year, this rally is always a big challenge!”
TÄNAK AND JÄRVEOJA
Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja will face their biggest challenge of the year so far when the FIA World Rally Championship embarks on the island of Corsica next week.
Tänak has not enjoyed the best of fortunes at his previous encounters with the Tour de Corse, and Järveoja will be experiencing the unique stages for the first time this year.
With their confidence high and their trademark determination in full force, the pairing will be looking to overturn the past and write a new chapter behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta WRC.
Previous starts: 2
Best result: 10th (2016 and 2015)
Ott Tänak said:
“Next week’s Tour de Corse will be the biggest test of the year so far, but we’ve done a lot to improve ourselves and await the challenge.
“It’s an event that I’ve not really clicked with in the past, but to be honest I had the same feeling about Rallye Monte-Carlo. That worked out really well for us so if we remain focused and motivated, anything is possible and we could find ourselves in contention for a positive result.
“That’s always our goal and we always want to deliver the best result we possibly can. The Fiesta felt really good in Monte and we’ve done a lot of work in testing since then. Last week we completed close to 500 test kilometres, so hopefully that all pays off next week.
“But at the same time, I know just how challenging this event is. The stages are so narrow and twisty and there is something happening all the time. There really is no margin for error and we’re going to have to remain calm and focused from the very start.”
EVANS AND BARRITT
Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt have always performed well at the Tour de Corse and will be looking to continue that trend next week.
When the pairing last joined forces in 2015, the Tour de Corse played host to their best ever result in the FIA World Rally Championship. Having led the event with an inspired drive through one of the most challenging stages of the weekend, the pairing secured second place overall.
When the DMACK-clad Ford Fiesta WRC last donned its asphalt guise at Rallye Monte-Carlo, Evans secured three stage victories and will be hoping for a similar showing in pursuit of a strong result next week.
Previous starts: 2
Best result: 2nd (2015)
Elfyn Evans said:
“The Tour de Corse is a real technical challenge but I think that’s what I like about it. We’ve had some really good results there and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do this year.
“It’s a unique event and there’s actually quite a lot of variation amongst the stages. Some are surprisingly smooth, but then there are those which are typically Corsican with abrasive Tarmac that twists through the mountains.
“It’s all about adapting to the conditions but at this time of year, and with the stages being so long, it’s possible to be faced with dry Tarmac and wet Tarmac on the same stage. Like in Monte-Carlo, we could find ourselves looking for the package that provides the best compromise.
“When we had dry Tarmac in Monte, our pace was really good and that gives us a big positive to build on. We had a test working of different set-ups last week and it felt pretty good. It’s an event that you can never predict, but there’s no reason for us not to feel fairly optimistic so let’s see what happens.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE M-SPORT TEAM
Elsewhere in the M-Sport team, Éric Camilli will be joined by Teemu Suninen and Pierre-Louis Loubet as all three take to the wheel of the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta R5 in the WRC 2 category.
After challenging for victory at last month’s Rally Mexico, Camilli will be looking for a similarly strong performance at the Tour de Corse but will face stiff competition from the likes of Andreas Mikkelsen and Jan Kopecky.
Contesting the Corsica fixture for the fourth time next week, it’s an event the Frenchman knows well and remains special on a personal level with his father’s family originating from the start town of Ajaccio.
Returning to the team following an impressive debut at last month’s Rally Sweden, Suninen will be keen to further build on his asphalt skills at an event he has experienced on two previous occasions.
Joining the team for the first time, Loubet will be keen to impress on home soil. Piloting the Fiesta for the first time in his career, the Frenchman will also contest this weekend’s Rallye National du Pays de Grasse to get familiar with his new charge.
Éric Camilli said:
“It’s always a pleasure to return to the Tour de Corse and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do. We had really good pace in Mexico and I’m hoping to carry that confidence with me next weekend.
“It’s a tricky event and the competition will be really strong with the likes of Andreas Mikkelsen back in the mix, but we aim to deliver our best and enjoy. We’ll have a test on Sunday to get used to driving on asphalt again, and I think we have the potential to deliver another strong result.
“I really enjoyed Rally Mexico and when everything was working well the times were really strong. If we can tap into that same enjoyment next weekend, anything is possible.”
Teemu Suninen said:
"It’s been a long time without a rally so I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel. It’s been a long wait, and I’m really motivated ahead of next week’s Tour de Corse.
“The competition will be tough so my aim will be to work with the team to find more speed on Tarmac and produce a good performance.
“As always, I want to improve on last year and we’ll have a test on Sunday to get a good feeling with the car. We’ll work to find the best set-up for the stages and hope to be as prepared as possible for the event.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet said:
“The Tour de Corse is my home rally and I’m really looking forward to it and to exploring what we can do in this new environment with a new team and new car. For me, this is the most important rally of the year and I can’t wait to see what we can do.
“It’s a really challenging event and you have to be completely focused from the very beginning. The corners never end and you cannot afford to lose concentration for even a second. Then, if the weather is bad, there’s an additional challenge as the roads become really dirty and even more difficult.
“We have a test on Sunday where I hope to get a good feeling with the car so that I can express my full potential on the rally. We want to be as efficient as possible and be in with a chance of challenging for a strong result.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE SERVICE PARK
Elsewhere in the service park, Bryan Bouffier will be back behind the wheel of his privately entered Ford Fiesta R5 in the WRC 2 category. The Frenchman secured a podium place at his previous outing at Rallye Monte-Carlo and will be hoping for a similarly strong result next week.
The Tour de Corse also marks the first round of the Junior WRC with 10 competitors going head-to-head, in identical one-litre Ecoboost Ford Fiesta R2s, for what is considered the biggest prize in rallying. The series is run by M-Sport’s Krakow-based operation and the crews will contest the full event with an additional point awarded for each stage victory.