Next week’s event marks Mikko Hirvonen’s last appearance at the pinnacle of the sport.
M-Sport’s home event has always been a season highlight but this year’s Wales Rally GB will be all the more momentous. Not only will the team have the opportunity to fight for the runner-up spot in the manufacturers’ championship, but the rally also holds special significance for both of the squad’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC drivers.
Having announced his retirement from the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), next week’s event marks Mikko Hirvonen’s last appearance at the pinnacle of the sport; the legendary stages of North Wales providing the perfect backdrop for the Finn’s final farewell.
On the other side of the M-Sport World Rally Team service area, Elfyn Evans will be making his world rally car debut on home soil – the first Welshman to pilot a top-specification rally car on the event since his father took to the stages in 2001.
It was actually my first WRC event in a world rally car and I can’t wait to get out there and experience it all for the final time.
Wales Rally GB is one of the championship’s most iconic events and is widely recognised as the season’s traditional finale. The gravel stages may not be as technically challenging as some, but the conditions make it the ultimate test of a driver’s ability.
A familiarity of the stages will see the crews well placed, but it is an understanding of the surface which will be the biggest advantage next week. The Welsh fixture is notorious for its unpredictability; rain, fog, ice and even snow all to be expected.
The grip levels can vary considerably from one corner to the next and it is the crews with a sixth sense for judging the available traction that reap the rewards.
Hirvonen has a vast knowledge of the event. Having contested the rally on 11 previous occasions, he claimed the coveted gold trophy as part of Ford and M-Sport’s championship winning year in 2007.
Coming off the back of a podium finish at the previous outing in Spain, he and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen will be looking to end their professional partnership on a high. The pairing has all the tools to affect a strong result and will be looking to do just that as they bid a fond farewell to the series in which they have competed for over a decade.
For Evans, this is an event that he has been looking forward to all year. There can be no bigger thrill than piloting a world rally car through the Welsh forests, and the experience will be all the more exhilarating in front of his home fans.
This will be the Welshman’s first taste of the power and performance of the Fiesta RS WRC on home soil and the youngster will be keen to better last year’s eighth place finish. With the experience of co-driver Daniel Barritt behind the notes, Evans is well placed to finish a highly impressive debut season with another strong result.
Wales is also home to Ford’s Bridgend Engine Plant and the Blue Oval’s globally successful EcoBoost technology. Ford’s ultra-modern engine plant produces close to 3,000 four-cylinder engines each day; equipping Ford’s hugely successful production range as well as sharing technology with the Fiesta RS WRC.
Mikko Hirvonen said: “This is going to be a very special event for me, my last in the FIA World Rally Championship. It was actually my first WRC event in a world rally car and I can’t wait to get out there and experience it all for the final time. The stages are really nice – fast and flowing – and I’m sure that I’m going to enjoy every single corner.
“I’ve always enjoyed this event. It’s a tough one, but I think that’s one of the reasons why I like it so much. The conditions are really challenging and the grip is changing all the time. There can be mud, fog, even snow and that makes it one of the biggest tests of the year for the drivers.
“It felt really good to be on the podium in Spain, and to do it again at my last event would be amazing. I think we’re going to have an emotional day on Sunday, and it would be great to say our final farewell from the podium.”
Elfyn Evans said: “The event itinerary and the route look really good so I think it’s going to be an exciting weekend. To have the opportunity to drive a world rally car for the first time so close to home will be a fantastic feeling.
“The stages themselves aren’t overly technical; the challenge comes from the changeable conditions. If we get fog or heavy rain it can make it really difficult and that changes the surface of the roads quite a lot. There’s also an element of being able to judge where the grip is and that’s one of the things that makes this event such a challenge. It’s always been a rally of high attrition and it’s almost about getting to the end as much as it’s about performing well.
“I learnt how to drive a rally car in the Welsh forests and I’ve always really enjoyed driving there. Needless to say it will be pretty special to come back to these stages in a world rally car for the first time.
“There will be a lot of competitive drivers at this event so I think we need to be realistic. We were eighth here last year, so it would be good to better that – although it would be nice to be at the higher end of the top-eight. Let’s wait and see. It will be a difficult event and anything can happen.”
Additional M-Sport drivers
It’s another bumper entry for M-Sport’s range of Ford Fiesta rally cars with close to 50 per cent of the entry list. Five Ford Fiesta RS WRCs have been entered alongside four Ford Fiesta RRCs, three Ford Fiesta S2000s, 12 Ford Fiesta R5s, six Ford Fiesta R2s, one Fiesta R1 and three Ford Fiesta STs – the most complete range of Ford Fiesta rally cars to contest a WRC event to date.
In addition to Hirvonen and Evans, M-Sport will also run the Fiesta RS WRCs of Robert Kubica and Ott Tänak as well as the Fiesta RRCs of Matthew Wilson and Yuriy Protasov, the Fiesta R5s of Nicolás Fuchs and Quentin Gilbert and the Fiesta R2 of cricket legend Graeme Swann.
M-Sport World Rally Team