After their impressive victory at Rally Chile last month, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team is set to take on the all-new Central European Rally, a brand-new addition to the World Rally Championship calendar.
Bringing the championship back to Tarmac for the penultimate round of the 2023 season, this unique event promises new challenges for all crews, leveling the playing field for both seasoned and up-and-coming rally talents alike.
If good things come in threes, then M-Sport’s triumvirate of Puma Rally1 cars are in good stead to take on the new event, traversing the borders of three countries from Thursday to Sunday. Based in the German city of Passau (also known as the City of Three Rivers), the crews will navigate a staggering total distance of 1690 km across the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany.
The event begins in the historic setting of Prague Castle, where the crews will be flagged off on Thursday before completing two super-special stages as they work their way back to Passau. Three full-days of action will follow; Friday presenting an immediate challenge with no midday service and only a remote tyre-fitting zone to get the crews through the day.
Tight and technical, smooth and fast and everything in between, the Central European Rally brings a much-anticipated new challenge to the calendar and new fans to the stages as the WRC’s top drivers fight for the glory of the event’s first podium on Sunday.
Fresh from his spectacular victory in Rally Chile last month, Ott Tänak is ready to take on the new event. With three wins at Rally Germany already under his belt, and victory at last weekend’s test event, the Herbst Rallye, this part of the world is not unfamiliar to the 2019 World Champion. Tänak’s experience, expertise and unwavering determination make him a strong contender on the brand-new asphalt event.
Pierre-Louis Loubet is eager to leverage the new event to his advantage and will look to use his Tarmac experience in Germany and elsewhere to bring in good results towards the end of the season. M-Sport will also welcome co-driver Benjamin Veillas back to the team for the first time since 2019, who will be debuting a new partnership with Loubet at the event.
After his Rally1 debut in Chile, Grégoire Munster returns to the Puma in Germany, determined to further his skills in top-level machinery on his preferred surface. With strong results on asphalt in the WRC2 category, the event will present another excellent learning opportunity for the Luxembourg driver.
Adrien Fourmaux will also make a reappearance in the WRC2 category after strong results throughout the season. The newly crowned British Rally Champion also secured class victory and second overall behind Tänak at last weekend’s Herbst Rallye – showcasing the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 and its new cooling package update amongst a highly competitive field – and will hope to continue his impressive form this week.
Richard Millener, WRC Team Principal, said:
“It’s always exciting to take-on a new event, it’s a huge challenge for teams and organisers alike but it’s also crucial to keep our sport evolving and to bring in new fans. I’m looking forward to seeing some new stages and it’ll certainly be interesting to see who ends up on that top step!
“Off the back of the win in Chile, the team feel renewed and we’re now fully focused on keeping these great results up as we finish off the season. Ott is still pushing us hard and we know he wants to do well in Central Europe and Japan. We keep seeing what the Puma is capable of and to finish the season off with some highs would mean a lot to the whole team.
“Even though we’re most of the way through the season now, we’ve still got a new(ish) face joining the team in the form of Benjamin Veillas. It’s a pleasure to have him back working in a new partnership with Pierre-Louis, and his experience and expertise is well-suited to supporting him in Central Europe.
“I’m also looking forward to seeing what Grégoire and Adrien will achieve on this event. Grégoire has some strong experience on Tarmac which will help him when learning to manage the Puma on a very different surface to what he experienced in Chile. Adrien has had a good season so far and we’ve been very impressed with him, the WRC2 category is very competitive but he repeatedly holds his own and there’s no reason he can’t do that here too.”
Ott Tänak said:
“It's been a while since we were on Tarmac and this event will be a new one in the calendar. It’s going to be a great challenge for us and our clear aim is to take the maximum from these last two events.
“It is very hard to expect anything from this rally as everything is going to be new and I’m pretty sure that the weather will play a major role as well – so we really need to be on it to hit all the targets.
“Chile was the last event on gravel this season and we were able to celebrate success together with the team which felt good. But the job is not done yet – we have two more to go, and we will keep pushing.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet said:
“I’m happy to do my first rally with Benjamin. After the accident in Chile I need to get some confidence back and have a clean rally. I want to enjoy the driving in Germany for sure.
“It’s been a nice feeling to be back on Tarmac in the Puma during the test this week so I’m looking forward to seeing what the event brings.”
Grégoire Munster said:
“The main thing we were learning in Chile is the hybrid features in the car; when to use it and in which situations. We were also understanding the aero and also getting used to the road position, as we start earlier on the road than in the Rally2. I’m not sure I will be able to carry that experience onto this Tarmac event, because the road position will be different again.
“Everything feels different on Tarmac because you have more traction, but on the test we tried to get used to the car on the surface and tried to do some different things with the set-up. The car obviously has a great base and gives you a lot of confidence to start with, but it’s helpful to get some more ideas in case the conditions change on the rally, then we know what direction we can go in with the set-up.”
Adrien Fourmaux said:
“It’s a new event for everyone so it’s a bit of a zero-point, which is a positive. We have to keep challenging and developing our pacenotes throughout the weekend. It’s nice to have a new Tarmac WRC event, covering three countries, and the roads look to be very different each day.
“It’s nice to be back on Tarmac after so many gravel events, and we completed a preparation rally in Austria this weekend to get ready for Central Europe – fine-tuning the set-up and learning as much as we can which should help us this weekend.”
Published 23 October 2023