The Ford Fiesta RS WRC dominated Wales Rally GB this weekend with 14 stage wins for the Fiesta over the course of the weekend. Amongst the success stories was the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team – Ott Tänak and Evgeny Novikov proving that the privateers have the pace to challenge the works teams.
Continually challenging the top drivers during the course of the rally, M-Sport’s regular point scorers impressed over the weekend. Posting continuous top-five times throughout yesterday’s competitive action, both drivers were tantalisingly close to claiming a stage win – Tänak missing out by 0.5 seconds on SS10 and Novikov by just 0.1 seconds on SS11. But there were mixed fortunes for the youngsters on the final day. As Novikov claimed his best ever finish on the Welsh stages, Tänak hit cruel misfortune and was forced to retire from what was set to be sixth place.
Embarking on the last and shortest day of competition, the crews contested 83.10 competitive kilometres over two loops of three identical stages: the mix of fast roads and narrow tracks through the Margam Forest, the perilously quick climb high above the Neath Valley and the final dash through Walters Arena which forms the end of rally Power Stage.
Despite its earlier schedule this year, Rally GB would not be the same without its usual dose of drama and M-Sport’s young guns provided just that over the final day of competition. Both Tänak and Novikov lost time being caught out by the tricky conditions over the morning’s first stage (SS14). But thanks to their composure and ability to quickly rectify a mistake, the pairing completed the stage to maintain their sixth and seventh places respectively.
Caught out under braking, Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk clipped a bank and spun their Ford Fiesta RS WRC on a narrow section through the winding hilltops and valleys of SS14. Although losing some 25 seconds to rally-rival Mikko Hirvonen, the Estonian pairing retained their sixth place with a comfortable gap to seventh. Continuing a steady pace through the remainder of the morning, Tänak continued with a string of top-ten times and the aim of making it to the end of the rally to claim his equal best sixth place finish from the event.
But disaster struck on SS16 when the 24-year-old succumbed to cruel misfortune. Making contact with one of the exposed rocks that litter the second pass of the Port Talbot stage, the Estonian damaged the front-right lower suspension arm of his Fiesta and was forced to retire having been on course for a strong result on the team’s home soil.
Also caught out under braking towards the end of SS14, Novikov lost 30 seconds but thanks to his impressive showing yesterday – agonisingly close to his first stage win of the season on a number of occasions – the Russian maintained seventh place behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC with almost a minute’s advantage to Thierry Neuville in eighth. But with the gap to team-mate Tänak too big to breach, Novikov backed off the pace through the following two stages – taking no risks and concentrating on securing a good finish on the challenging Welsh stages.
With team mate Tänak out of the running, Novikov and new co-driver for this event Ilka Minor were propelled into sixth place – the ALM supported driver’s best ever finish at Wales Rally GB. A string of top-ten times and a composed and mature drive over the remaining afternoon loop saw Novikov secure the position and maintain his sixth place in the championship.
Elsewhere, despite struggling with an on-going misfire throughout the morning stages, Matthew Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin had clearly got back into the rhythm of competitive rallying. Piloting their Ford Fiesta RS WRC to a seventh and eighth fastest time through the opening morning’s tests, the British pairing were well on course for a top-ten finish on their return to the championship.
Consolidating his position with further strong times over the morning loop, and with team mate Tänak being forced to retire from the event, Wilson claimed eighth place overall on his first gravel event of the season. Matthew Wilson was proud to be Cumbrian this weekend, and following an impressive performance on his long awaited return, the county in Northern England will certainly be proud of the 25-year-old today.
Learning a lot from his first experience behind the wheel of a world rally car, guest driver Jan Habig finished the event in 28th place following an unfortunate ‘off’ on the opening stage of the second day of competition.
Getting to grips with the handling and characteristics of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC, the South African found his rhythm through the final day of rallying. Enjoying the stages alongside British co-driver Robbie Durrant, Habig has obtained a wealth of knowledge from the M-Sport Team which can only help his assault on this year’s South African Rally Championship – in which he competes behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta S2000.
Evgeny Novikov (6th) said:
“The rally has been good. It was not so wet as usual, but still quite slippery and everything was fine and we coped well in the conditions.
“Ilka [Minor] was a very good co-driver for me on this event and we worked well together. I enjoyed the rally a lot and this was my best finish on this event. This was a very good result for me and of course I am very happy.”
Matthew Wilson (8th) said:
“It was fantastic to be back – I really enjoyed every bit of it!
“It was a bit frustrating this morning, but at least we fixed it and could have a proper go again this afternoon. It was brilliant fun.
“I definitely want to be back for Spain and I will be trying as hard as I can to get there, but we will just have to wait and see.”
Jan Habig (28th) said:
“Generally I think this was a bit of a tough event for us. It was a steep mountain to climb. It didn’t quite go to our plan but these things are hard – that’s why we have come to do it.
“If we come back again I think we will have to look for a new approach, come and do some practising and learn some more about the event. I don’t think now-a-days you can just arrive and think you are going to get the good results!
“It was a good experience and we have learnt quite a bit. Now I think we are going to have to come back at some point and give it another go!”
Ott Tänak (DNF) said:
“There was a long straight through the forest and one of the marshals had told us that one of the cars in front had pulled some rocks onto the stage. They had managed to clear most of them, but there was one left and I didn’t see it as it was behind a crest. We hit it and it went under the car and broke the suspension.
“For sure before that the event had been going really well. OK the first day was quite difficult making the change from Tarmac to gravel without a test. But yesterday was pretty good and we were setting some good times and keeping in touch with the guys in front.”
Source: M-Sport Ford