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PUMAS PUSH TO SET PACE ON PUNISHING STAGES IN SARDINIA

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team is poised to tackle tough gravel action on next week’s Rally Italia Sardegna, the sixth round of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship.


Sitting second in the driver’s championship, Ott Tänak continues to battle for crucial points to keep his rivals at bay.

M-Sport saw a fantastic start to the championship’s previous round in Portugal two weeks ago, where both Tänak and Pierre-Louis Loubet led the rally at points and set top times throughout the weekend.


Both crews will use their experience from Portugal to head to Sardinia with confidence, both Tänak and Loubet having strong existing knowledge and good results in Sardinia to date.


Tänak in particular will hope to mirror his past results here. The Estonian claimed his maiden WRC victory on the Italian island back in 2017 behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta WRC, plus an additional win last year in 2022. With one win and another podium result already secured in the Ford Puma Rally1 this year, he will hope to add more silverware to his collection next week.


In what was only his third outing in the Puma’s maiden season, Loubet’s rally in Sardinia 2022 saw him in the podium fight, holding third position throughout the first full day of action and finishing the event in a career-best fourth overall. Loubet starts Sardinia in an advantageous road position that will aid his way to the podium spots.


This year’s event will be based in Olbia, the home of Thursday night’s spectator stage on the island’s picturesque east coast. The event’s traditional gravel stages remain the same, including the famous Monte Lerno stage, now extended to an incredible 49.92 kilometres in length making endurance a key feature for both cars and drivers.


The crews will tackle ever-changing gravel, gradually revealing unforgiving bedrock calling for delicate tyre management and sensitivity to the car’s mechanics. Long days and high temperatures sometimes exceeding 30 degrees Celsius only add to the challenge, as the crews balance their need for speed alongside the inevitable threats posed by twisty and slippery gravel roads.


In the WRC2 category, M-Sport Ford will field three Fiesta Rally2s in the hands of Adrien Fourmaux, Grégoire Munster and Robert Virves. Fourmaux had a strong weekend in Portugal, claiming two stage wins and a collection of other top-five times in the feeder category, and hopes to replicate this speed again in Sardinia.


Richard Millener, Team Principal, said:

“Portugal was a tough battle but we’ve set some good groundwork for the upcoming challenge in Sardinia. As a team we have some good memories here with Ott’s victory in 2017, so we can hope to see a repeat of that this year.


“Ott’s proven his pace, he’s proven he can win, so now we need to continue to support him to do that. He is still fighting for the championship and we’re hoping we will see that fight get even closer after next weekend.


“Let’s not forget that Pierre had a fantastic rally in Sardinia last year, he was fighting for third all weekend and proved to us what he can do. Since then, he has won stages and led rallies, so I’m confident we will see something good from him out there as well.


“It’s also great to be fielding a trio of Rally2s again, and Adrien in particular is putting on a strong performance this season. I was very impressed by his pace and endurance in Portugal, despite being hampered by punctures, and I think we can expect to see more of this speed in Sardinia.


"Our Rally2 customer programme is a core element of what we do at M-Sport, and it’s fantastic that we can come out onto WRC stages and prove what it can do.”


Ott Tänak, currently second in the FIA WRC Drivers' Championship, said:

“Sardinia is a unique rally in many ways, the roads are demanding with very low grip conditions but at the same time very narrow and fast between trees and rock faces. I always enjoy driving there!


“All the M-Sport team, together with the Ford Performance guys in the US, have been on it to bring on the next steps in our performance and we have a busy test day before Sardinia. We are looking into everything to extract some extra speed.

“The target is to get another step closer to our competitors. Things will take a bit of time, but I’m sure that improving step by step we will be there one moment!”


Pierre-Louis Loubet, said:

“I think with the pace we showed on Friday in Portugal we can expect to do something good in Sardinia. It will be very important to avoid any mistakes this time, as even small ones can have big consequences. We know that the pace is there, we just need to put it all together to get a good result and we’re hoping that will all happen in Sardinia.”


Adrien Fourmaux, said:

“Sardinia is a really rough event, with hot conditions, and this year we have a nearly 50km stage to look forward to! It’ll be a huge challenge for everybody, for the crews and the mechanics. But I like the challenge, and this will be my fifth time in Sardinia so we have a good base knowledge of the stages.


This is a famously difficult event, there’s no margin for error with rocks everywhere! When you hit something, you hit it hard. Let’s see what we can achieve.”


Grégoire Munster, said:

“Sardinia is a new event for us, just like Portugal, so it will all be about discovery and gaining experience. Portugal didn’t go so well for us, but it was our first time on gravel in the car, so we will try to use that experience in Sardinia and do better there.”


Robert Virves, said:

“This will be my first time competing in Sardinia, so there will be a lot to learn as it is a very tough event. Luckily, we have had some good experience in Portugal, and we can use a lot of that information on the stages in Sardinia. This is a big opportunity to learn a lot, it’s a tough event and we will need to manage the car and the tyres. But the experience in the Rally2 is all about learning, and it’s all beneficial to us going forward. Let’s see what happens!”


Published 26 May 2023

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