M-Sport are ready to turn up the heat as the FIA World Rally Championship reaches its mid-point at next week’s Rally Italia Sardegna.
Having delivered a strong start to the season, the Cumbrian team currently lead both championships and will be hoping for a similarly strong performance when Sébastien Ogier, Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans are reunited with the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC.
Having completed a comprehensive five-day test on location last week, the team have been working around the clock to be prepared for the sun-soaked stages of Sardinia.
RALLY ITALIA SARDEGNA
Known as the Endless Island, Sardinia is prime rallying territory with rugged mountains, ancient forests and unspoilt rural terrain providing some of the most picturesque and demanding terrain of the year.
Lined with car-breaking obstacles, the stages are extremely fast and narrow with no room for error. Combine that with the intense heat and Rally Italia Sardegna offers one of the most thrilling and unpredictable events on the calendar.
Based in the coastal town of Alghero, the event covers 312.66 kilometres across 19 competitive stages and this year’s fixture will see the crews travel to Olbia on Thursday evening so as to facilitate the return of two classic speed tests – Terranova and Monte Olbia.
Honoured as an Outstanding UK Leader at the Autocar Awards last month, Malcolm Wilson continues to receive global recognition for M-Sport’s impressive performance so far this year.
With the Ford Fiesta WRC having secured a podium finish at every event so far, the celebrated Team Principal is keen to see that trend continue.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“It’s hard to believe that we are approaching the mid-point of the season. We’ve produced some fantastic results over the first half of the year and we certainly want to see that continue.
“This is one of the closest championships that I can remember and we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. If we want to see our impressive string of results continue, so must the hard work and that is exactly what the team have been focused on.
“In particular, I must praise the efforts of our test team. We had a little celebration last week but some notable members of the team were unable to attend – our test team working hard in Sardinia and forgoing their bank holiday to ensure we are in the best possible shape for Rally Italia Sardegna.
“All three of our drivers have good track records at this event, and it’s one that the team look forward to every year. I see no reason why we shouldn’t be challenging for the top results once again, and everyone will be working to achieve that goal.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
Fresh from victory at Rally de Portugal, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia will be keen to add more silverware to their collection and increase their lead at the head of the drivers’ championship. With a strong track record at Rally Italia Sardegna, the Frenchmen have three victories to their name and will be hoping to make it one more next week.
Previous starts: 8
Best result: 1st (2013, 2014 and 2015)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“We found a good feeling with the Fiesta in Portugal and we’ll be hoping to continue that in Sardinia. We’re approaching the mid-point in the season, and that’s where the championship will really start to heat up… quite literally!
“The temperatures that we’ll experience next week are probably the highest of the year and we’ll need to be prepared for that. We had a good test last week where we confirmed our cooling options as well as set-up configurations for the event – so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be confident of challenging for another strong result.
“We’ll face an element of cleaning on the opening day, but we’ve got a good track record in Sardinia and I’ve learned to enjoy these demanding stages. It’s not the easiest of events. You need to keep a margin and be focused from start to finish. Tyre preservation can also prove really important and that could be particularly significant on Saturday with two 70 kilometre loops.
“The aim is always to increase our lead at the head of the championship, and we hope to do that with another strong performance.”
TÄNAK AND JÄRVEOJA
Rally Italia Sardegna played host to Ott Tänak’s maiden FIA World Rally Championship podium and the Estonian will be hoping to at least equal that next week. Having delivered rally-winning pace in Portugal, a maiden victory cannot be far away and he and co-driver Martin Järveoja are more determined than ever – their new partnership and their understanding of the Ford Fiesta WRC growing with each outing.
Previous starts: 5
Best result: 3rd (2012)
Ott Tänak said:
“I feel as though we’re getting better all the time and learning more about the car every time we get behind the wheel. We had a great set-up in Portugal – the best we’ve had all year – and another test last week means that we go to Sardinia in a positive mood.
“The island holds a lot of special memories for me as it’s where I secured my first podium back in 2012 and we’ll be aiming to at least equal that next week.
“We’ll need to be fully focussed from the start as there are so many things to consider on an event as tricky as this one. The stages are very narrow, but also quite fast in places. There is always something to catch you out, so you need to keep that margin.
“If that weren’t enough, we’ll also be experiencing the highest temperatures of the year which could mean more tyre wear and a need to manage the situation. We got an idea of what to expect at the test, and we hope to be in a position to challenge for another strong result.
“The plan will be to go out there and enjoy it – which isn’t difficult with these new cars!”
EVANS AND BARRITT
Elfyn Evans first took to the wheel of a world rally car at Rally Italia Sardegna in 2013. Having improved his performance with every outing on the Italian isle, the Welshman knows this event well and he and co-driver Daniel Barritt will be keen to deliver another strong performance next week.
Previous starts: 3
Best result: 4th (2015)
Elfyn Evans said:
“I’ve got a lot of good memories from Sardinia. It’s where I first got behind the wheel of a world rally car and I didn’t want to give it back! It’s not the easiest of rallies by a long shot, but I think it’s the challenge that I enjoy.
“There are so many factors that you need to keep in mind at an event like this. The stages are very rough and abrasive, and then there are the high temperatures. Air temperatures can be as high as 30C and those in the cockpit can get up to 50C plus!
“This will be the first time that we’re experiencing this sort of environment with our 2017 package so we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out. We’ll certainly be giving it our all though, and as history has shown, anything can happen at an event like Rally Italia Sardegna.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE TEAM
Elsewhere in the team, Pierre-Louis Loubet and Vincent Landais will be flying the flag for the Ford Fiesta R5 Evo2 in the WRC 2 category.
The latest upgrade of M-Sport’s most successful global rally car enjoyed an impressive debut at last month’s Rally de Portugal – only just missing out on victory with Teemu Suninen.
Battling with Pontus Tidemand, the Finn had the upper hand on the stages but, when both rivals suffered a puncture on the same stage, the win came down to the battle of the tyre changes – Suninen missing out on victory by just over 10 seconds.
Having contested Rally Italia Sardegna last year, Loubet will be hoping to take that experience forward as he strives to secure another podium for the Fiesta R5 Evo2.
Further down the field, Éric Camilli and Benjamin Veillas will also be in action with the Fiesta R5 Evo2. The French pairing are not registered for points next weekend, but will be keen to show their speed on an event that yielded strong results last year.
Pierre-Louis Loubet said:
“I love this event. It’s really close to my home in Corsica and it has a fantastic atmosphere. For me, it’s a very special place.
“The biggest challenge is the stages themselves. The roads are very tricky. They’re so narrow so you must be concentrated from the very beginning and avoid mistakes at all costs.
“I still have a lot to learn so I’m not setting myself any particular goals. The main aim will just be to enjoy and give my maximum. If we can do that, I’m sure the result will be a good one.”
Éric Camilli said:
“I really enjoyed Rally Italia Sardegna last year. It’s where I secured my first stage win and I remember being absolutely delighted with that.
“We’ll not be registered for WRC 2 points next week so we’ll focus on learning as much as we can about this special event. But we still want to show our speed and I think we have a good chance of challenging for the class victory.”