M-SPORT CREWS SAFELY HOME AFTER CHALLENGING FIRST DAY IN WALES
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s four crews put in a credible performance on the first day of competition at Wales Rally GB today. After two loops of three technically challenging stages, Ott Tänak lies sixth with Evgeny Novikov seventh. Home favourite Matthew Wilson claimed ninth with South African star Jan Habig making a welcome return to the FIA World Rally Championship in 18th.
Despite this year’s event being scheduled earlier in the year than its traditional end of season slot, nothing can be taken for granted in this part of the world and the crews had to tackle some tricky conditions over the morning loop with mud on the opening tests making the going particularly tough.
Struggling with the power steering of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC on the slower, more rocky sections of the stages, Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk did well – posting consistent times throughout the morning to hold sixth place going into remote service.
As regulations limited spares during service, the Estonian had to persevere over the afternoon loop. But raising to the challenge, Tänak impressed – maintaining his sixth place and posting the fifth fastest time through the second pass of Hafren Sweet Lamb (SS5), just a second adrift of eight-time World Champion Sébastien Loeb.
Finding a good rhythm with new co-driver Ilka Minor, Novikov made the most of his later road position. Taking no risks and keeping his Ford Fiesta RS WRC on the road through the slippery stages, the Russian held seventh place at the end of the morning loop, 14.6 seconds clear of Thierry Neuville in eighth.
More consistent times followed through the afternoon with two sixth fastest times. Even despite an ambitious tyre choice not paying dividends on SS5, the Russian maintained his seventh place and extended the gap to Neuville to more than 55 seconds.
Elsewhere, returning home favourites Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin were finding their rhythm. Despite a steady start, the Brit was soon finding his feet and climbing the leader board in the process. Holding ninth place in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC at the end of the morning loop, Wilson had amassed a comfortable gap of 13.5 seconds to regular WRC competitor Martin Prokop in tenth.
More top-ten times followed through the afternoon loop – an impressive showing given the fact that this is the 25-year-old’s first gravel rally of the season – to see Wilson safeguard his ninth place with a gap of almost 20 seconds to tenth.
Also making a welcome return to the WRC, Habig was getting to grips with his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Following a tentative start on the South African’s first outing in the WRC specification Fiesta – carrying too much speed into the corners as is required with his usual, less powerful specification Ford Fiesta S2000 – Habig soon adapted to the more powerful model.
Celebrating his 53rd birthday today, Habig and co-driver Robbie Durant became more comfortable with the handling and characteristics of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC over the afternoon loop, climbing to 18th place and looking for further gains and experience tomorrow.
Ott Tänak (6th) said:
“The stages were a bit better than this morning – it wasn’t so rough any more, it was quite smooth.
“The car was feeling quite nice to drive and we are starting to get the feeling back on gravel again now.
“We will see what the weather will do tomorrow but for sure I am hoping we can push a little bit more and set some good times.”
Evgeny Novikov (7th) said:
“This afternoon was OK, but we took six tyres with two soft spares which we put on the front of the car for the second stage [SS5]. This was not such a good idea – the balance of the car was off and it meant that there was a lot of ‘sideways’.
“But apart from that everything is fine. The car is working well and I am really enjoying the stages.”
Matthew Wilson (9th) said:
“Today has been pretty frustrating in a way. But it has also been good – we have learnt quite a bit. The middle stage [SS5] was good again and we were much better through the last one [SS6] than we were this morning.
“Generally today has been OK. We are about where we expected to be and tomorrow we will just try to push and see where we will be.
“The only thing is that obviously we are going to be fairly early on the road and it could be fairly loose with the road clearing quite a lot behind. Hopefully we’ll get some rain tonight and it might make things a bit easier!”
Jan Habig (18th) said:
“We had a ropey start this morning on SS1 – we got it wrong in the first couple of corners and then we were just chasing ourselves and never got anywhere after that.
“This afternoon we were trying to find something that works in terms of the driving and the handling. It got a little bit better by trying to take it a little slower into the corners and then putting more power down as you come out.
“To sum it up we are probably a little bit frustrated with ourselves at the moment. But we will have a bit of a re-think tonight and hopefully come back with a better plan tomorrow morning.”
Source: M-Sport Ford