M-Sport Ford World Rally Team will unleash its EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs on Rally de Portugal next week (20-23 May) as the FIA World Rally Championship switches to gravel for the first of four successive loose-surface counters.
An event steeped in history as a founding round of the WRC back in 1973, Rally de Portugal holds many happy memories for M-Sport, with an outright victory in 2017 and a podium double one year later among a long list of achievements by the team in the country.
Following the cancellation of the event 12 months ago, Rally de Portugal is back as the fourth round of the 2021 WRC season, which M-Sport Ford World Rally Team is tackling with an exciting line-up of young talents.
Based in Matosinhos, close to Porto, 20 stages over a timed distance of 337.51 kilometres provide the challenge on this year’s event, the sixth edition to be held in the north of Portugal since the rally’s return to its traditional home in 2015.
The stages are notably soft and sandy on the first pass, but the emergence of a hard bedrock for the rerun places an onus on limiting the wear rates of the Pirelli Scorpion KX tyre, which is making its first appearance in this year’s WRC and is available in a hard and soft compound.
Starting position is also a factor on Rally de Portugal, with a lower running order the preference, especially if the weather conditions remain dry.
Changes to the route for 2021 include the return of the Mortágua stage on Friday’s opening leg for the first time since 2000. Felgueiras, which forms part of the route for Sunday’s deciding leg, is back after a long absence, while Saturday’s Amarante test is the rally’s longest stage at 37.92 kilometres.
In preparation for the event, which also marks round two of the FIA Junior WRC Championship for the M-Sport Poland-run Ford Fiesta Rally4, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team is preparing to test in Portugal this weekend with all its drivers in action.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“We have every reason to be positive as we prepare for Rally de Portugal following some encouraging performances on the first three rounds of the season. We know it’s going to be a tough event and breaking into the top five will be a tall order, but as far as Adrien and Gus are concerned, we’re not looking for heroics. They have a game plan and it’s clear we want them to progress throughout the rally, and for Adrien to build his confidence given his zero experience of driving a World Rally Car on gravel.
“For Gus, this is the first event he has previous experience of in a World Rally Car and this will serve him well as he continues his partnership with Chris. For Adrien, it’s only his second appearance in a WRC car in the world championship and his first on gravel on an event he doesn’t know, so there’s going to be plenty to adapt to in a short period of time. But there’s absolutely no pressure on either of them. They have a job to do in getting to the finish, but we’re also hoping for competitive stage times during the event, and they are more than capable of doing that.
“We can once again count on Teemu’s pace and experience in WRC2. Not wanting to raise expectations, but Teemu has what it takes to win this category, while showcasing the performance of the Ford Fiesta Rally2, which was also the case in Croatia. For Tom, this is another great opportunity to learn and improve on his step up from Rally4 to Rally2 level as the FIA Junior WRC champion. Croatia wasn’t the ideal start for him, but Tom is very capable and very determined and will bounce back very quickly.
“In addition to our test in Portugal, we start next week’s event on the back of a successful test in Spain as we continue our preparations for the hybrid-based Rally1 era from 2022. But while the WRC’s eco-friendly future is very exciting, we can’t wait to watch our drivers deliver on their potential on Rally de Portugal.”
Boosted by the start of his partnership with vastly experienced co-driver Chris Patterson in Croatia last month, Gus Greensmith, 24, returns to the rally where he made his debut in a Ford Fiesta WRC in 2019 and to the country where he took part on his first world championship event outside his native Great Britain four years earlier. To ensure he’s at the peak of his physical fitness, Greensmith’s pre-Portugal training programme included sessions riding an exercise bike in a sauna, while a test this weekend will give him the opportunity to reacclimatise to driving on gravel for the first time since Rally Italia Sardegna last October.
Gus Greensmith said:
“When I look at this rally, I think more to how I enjoy being behind the wheel rather than how tough the rally actually is. It’s pretty cool to come to a country that loves rallying so much and it’s the event of the season that I look forward to the most because of this.
“It’s the first event I’ve done before in a WRC car so it’s the first event I can draw experience from. You want a car that can generate the grip and find the traction on the first pass, which tends to be quite loose, but then also has the stability on the second pass when the base of the road becomes quite hard and rough.
“I always set myself targets and a top five is realistic. We would have finished fifth in Croatia until the unfortunate technical issue meant we lost time. But it was a good step forward and I want to make the same step again in Portugal, particularly following the co-driver change, which was a positive from Croatia. But to achieve a top five at this level everything has to be done right and I can’t be making any mistakes, so that’s the focus.”
Less than a month after his hugely impressive run to fifth place on his debut in a World Rally Car on a WRC event in Croatia, Adrien Fourmaux gets his first shot at driving a top-level Fiesta on gravel. Although he’s a newcomer to Rally de Portugal, the Frenchman, 26, claimed five stage wins on the Portuguese championship Rali Terras d'Aboboreira last season alongside Belgian co-driver Renaud Jamoul. Competing in a Ford Fiesta Rally2, the event included a large section of the Amarante stage that features twice on day two of this year’s Rally de Portugal.
Adrien Fourmaux said:
“I’m just really happy and really excited to start, like I have been since Rich told me I would be doing this rally. I was here as a spectator in 2019 but this will be my first time competing on this rally and I know it will be a big challenge. But I hope to have a good pace and enjoy all the week, like I did in Croatia.
“I have no big expectations, it’s the same goal as Croatia. The top six or top seven with good pace on some stages and some top-five times would be a good result for me. I am quite confident for this, but I am still learning. My favourite surface is gravel and I have done some good rallies on gravel, including Rally GB in 2019 when I finished second in WRC2.
“For my preparation I have been watching a lot of videos from the last few years on WRC Plus. It looks quite rough in some places with a lot of rocks on the road for the second pass. The first pass looks sandy on some stages, really soft gravel. But everything looks amazing and I’m sure it’s going to be a really nice rally. And, of course, the jump of Fafe is one of the most famous jumps of the season for sure.”
Teemu Suninen’s mission to remain sharp and focused while he awaits his next opportunity in a Ford Fiesta WRC continues on Rally de Portugal, when he will come armed with an EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2. The 27-year-old Finn took a WRC2 podium in Portugal in 2017 driving a Fiesta R5 and finished third overall the following season on his step up to a Fiesta WRC. After showing WRC category-winning pace in Croatia, Suninen has high hopes to build on his runner-up spot on round three of the season.
Teemu Suninen said:
“It’s quite a tricky rally and on the rough side. If it’s really warm and we are running further back on the starting list, we might see quite a lot of aggressive bedrock, which is hard for the tyres and something we have to manage. Still, it’s not too rough for the cars, so basically we have to go flat out but keeping in mind the tyres.
“My memories of Portugal are good. I started my first world championship rally not in Finland in Portugal and it’s always been one of my favourite rallies, where I have some good results.
“If we have good pace I am going to go for the win if there is any chance. The main thing is to bring good results for the car and try to get more podiums for the team and for me. WRC2 is very competitive this season with a lot of good drivers and I am really looking forward to the challenge. I can beat these drivers and have beaten them, but everything is possible. We just need to have really, really good rally to get a podium.”
Tom Kristensson gets his second WRC2 start in the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2, which is part of his prize for winning the FIA Junior WRC title in 2020. After a tough baptism in Croatia where he failed to finish following an accident, the 30-year-old from Sweden will be aiming to capitalise on the experience he gained, albeit on an event that’s all-new to him.
Tom Kristensson said:
“You think of Rally de Portugal and you think it’s all like the famous Fafe stage with the jump, but after a more effective check of the organiser’s videos it’s quite technical in some places but also very fast in others.
“Croatia was for sure a really big adventure for us and a tricky thing to get into but I’m actually very, very happy what we did on the stages where we were driving. It felt really good, and I really enjoyed working the team, so professional, and everything around was just amazing and fantastic, so it’s so nice to come back again and continue.
“I want to see the finish line on the last stage, that would be everything for me. I never think about what I will do in terms of the result because I always want to win so I am never thinking of something different. I also know it’s difficult for me with my experience so I’m looking for a really good pace that I’m comfortable and fast with. We were in a dream in Croatia before the crash then it turned into a nightmare. Now I want to get into the dream again.”