Tyre strategy can make all the difference at Rallye Monte-Carlo and the M-Sport World Rally Team had their wits about them when making their selection for the first day of competition. Thanks to the correct tyre choice through the morning loop, Monte debutant Elfyn Evans holds an impressive sixth place at the end of Day 1.
In one of the most dramatic openers to an FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season, Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt got their Monte debut off to a sensational start. Thoroughly enjoying the challenges thrown up by the mountainous stages, the pairing kept their heads in what were treacherously difficult conditions. Having had the better of a number of their more experienced rivals, Evans and Barritt came into their own through the first pass of ‘Monteauban sur l’Ouveze – Laborel’ (SS3).
Keeping his feet firmly on the ground, Evans conserved his pace through the afternoon loop. Despite slipping back to sixth, the Welshman is on course for a fantastic result on what is a daunting first venture to this notoriously difficult event.
Unfortunately, there was less good fortune for Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen as the pairing had to contend with slick tyres through the morning’s slippery conditions. They were not the only ones to be caught out by the unpredictable snow fall, and despite being disadvantaged running fourth on the road, the duo kept their Fiesta RS WRC planted to the black-top roads.
With his Fiesta clad with snow tyres for the afternoon loop, Hirvonen made ground – climbing from 13th to eighth place overall. As a past Monte winner, the Finn has extensive knowledge of the event’s challenging conditions. Opting for a cautious approach as they get back to grips with the Fiesta’s characteristics, their strategy could yet pay dividends with a further two days of gruelling competition and unpredictable forecasts to come.
Elfyn Evans (6th) said: “I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t expect to be sitting in sixth place at the end of Day 1, or to have been just 0.5 seconds off a fastest stage time. If someone had told me that before the event, I would have certainly taken it!
“The tyre choice that we made with the team this morning was essential to where we are now. We had a steady run this afternoon – just to gain as much experience as possible – and we’ve found ourselves in a reasonably strong position over night. Now, we just need to be sensible and keep it together for the remainder of the event.”
Mikko Hirvonen (8th) said: “We felt a bit more comfortable this afternoon, but we didn’t do so much testing in these sorts of conditions so it is really difficult to find the confidence. But it’s getting better and that is a very good thing.
“Obviously there is still a long way to go, but let’s see what we can do. I hope that we can continue to show the pace that we had in the last stage and try to catch the boys in front. The gaps are pretty big now, but this is Monte-Carlo and we’ve already seen what can happen!”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “Mikko [Hirvonen] has had a difficult first day back in the Fiesta, but it all started to come together on the last stage – quickest of all the Fiesta drivers. He’s certainly in a position to make up places and as we all know, anything can happen.
“As for Elfyn [Evans], it’s been a great first day. He‘s been very sensible and done exactly what he needed to do. He made a really good tyre choice this morning, but more than anything, I have been really impressed by the way he has kept his head in what is probably one of the most difficult ‘Montes’ for the past few years.
“This is such a prestigious rally, and it is great to see that there are five M-Sport designed and manufactured Fiestas in the overall top-ten!”
Additional M-Sport crews
Bryan Bouffier currently leads Rallye Monte-Carlo behind the wheel of an M-Sport run Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The Frenchmen was another driver to benefit from the optimum tyre choice through the first pass of ‘Monteauban sur l’Ouveze – Laborel’ (SS3). Cladding their Fiesta with a cross configuration of Michelin’s supersoft Pilot Sport and non-studded Pilot Alpin tyres, Bouffier and co-driver Xavier Panseri claimed the lead through SS3’s treacherous offerings and held position for the reminder of the day. With five stages to run en-route to Monaco tomorrow, the former ‘Monte’ winner goes into Day 2 with a 38.8 second lead.
Bryan Bouffier (1st) said: “It is fantastic for me to be here – competing with the world’s best and in a really good position at the end of the first day. The conditions have been really difficult, so to come out on top – here at Monte-Carlo – it’s a very good feeling. Although I have to say that I am lucky to be here! On the first corner of the first stage we hit a bridge and I thought that our race was over. Thankfully, the Fiesta is very strong, so thanks to her!
“Of course this will not be an easy position to hold on to as we know that anything can happen. We need to keep concentrated and be aware of the conditions. We’ll just try to keep the same pace, and see what happens tomorrow.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “Bryan [Bouffier] has done a great job today and we are obviously very happy to see one of our privateer drivers leading the rally. He has used all of his past ‘Monte’ experience to great effect – a really mature drive with some excellent tyre selections. It will be difficult to hold onto the lead, but anything can happen and he is in a fantastic position going forward.”
M-Sport World Rally Team