As Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tänak travel to Rally Italia Sardegna for the penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) next week, the duo will be seeking another strong result for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team.
With the M-Sport technicians transforming the Ford Fiesta RS WRCs in just four days, the pairing are ready to rally and will be looking to emulate their previous successes on the Italian event.
Based in the costal town of Porto Cervo, the stages are characterised by their technically challenging and diverse nature – fast and narrow stages interspersed with sections of wide open roads and undulating tracks through the island’s woodlands.
The loose and sandy gravel will also make road position key with drivers having to find the balance between sweeping the roads at the front of the field and risking dust clouds forming and limiting visibility towards the back.
A technical challenge for the crews, Rally Italia has also presented a challenge for the mechanics back in Cumbria.
With just four days to strip the Ford Fiesta RS WRCs down to their bare shell before re-building in gravel specification, M-Sport’s dedicated team of technicians and engineers have been working around the clock to get the cars ready for the penultimate round of the season.
With his Ford Fiesta RS WRC ready to rally, Novikov will be looking for a strong result in Italy.
Making his debut on the event in 2009, the Russian secured an impressive fifth place overall and will be looking to emulate that success as he and co-driver Ilka Minor embark on their third competitive outing together.
Having secured a seventh place finish following a spectacular roll on the previous round in France, Novikov’s fighting spirit will be back in force as the Muscovite hunts down another strong result for the M-Sport team.
Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk made their mark on the Italian event last year when they claimed their first S-WRC victory to finish an impressive seventh overall with the Ford Fiesta S2000.
Following his first Power Stage victory on the previous round in France – the first for a genuine privateer since the scheme was introduced in 2011 – Tänak will be full of confidence and ready to impress once again, this time behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Swapping the driving seat for the managerial role this week, the Estonian is running a number of cars on the Silveston Saaremaa Rally.
Based in the 24-year-old’s home region and forming the final round of the Estonian Rally Championship, Tänak will be hoping to emulate his own accomplishments as a driver as he guides his fellow countrymen to achieve success.
Evgeny Novikov said: “The feeling is quite good ahead of this rally, although looking at the weather there could be some rain which will make it quite tricky and very slippery.
“The stages are very narrow with a lot of rocks and trees lining the roads so you have to be very careful. You need to work hard on the recce and make sure that the pacenotes are as good as you can make them.
“We did quite well here in 2009 with a fifth place finish, but the stages are very different now to what they were then so we will have to start from scratch and see how we go. As always, we will be fighting for a good result and looking to do the best we can.”
Ott Tänak said: “The feeling is pretty good ahead of Italy. We had a good run in France with no problems, so our confidence is a lot higher right now. We also went really well here last year – it was one of my best ever events in the [Ford Fiesta] S2000.
“The stages in Italy can differ a lot, but most are really fast and narrow with a lot of trees close to the roads which means that you need to be really careful not to make a mistake!
But if everything goes well, and you have a good run, you can also go really quickly and maybe even have a chance to challenge the top guys on some of the stages.
“Road position can also be really important here. Especially on the first day, some of the cars will be running in daylight with others in darkness! But really, when it comes to the actual condition of the stages, it depends a lot on the weather so we’ll be watching that for sure!
“As always, we will just try our best and work hard to do the best job we can. We’ll concentrate on having a really good recce so that our pacenotes are as good as they can be and just see how we go.”
Speaking on the work involved in turning the cars around in just four days, M-Sport engineer, Nigel Hoogeveen said:
“The work really started at the end of the rally in France. The engineers and number one technicians on each car went through what was required for each individual rebuild such as any damage sustained from the rally, any small issues that need addressing, changes to the livery etc.
“Once the cars return to M-Sport they are cleaned and stripped depending on what work needs to be carried out.
All the components that are removed from the car – suspension, transmissions, hydraulics etc. – are then taken to the relevant departments to be rebuilt whilst the workshop technicians prepare the chassis.
“This week has also required a switch from Tarmac to gravel specification; many parts have had to be changed. Transmissions, dampers, suspension, all these components need to be quickly converted to gravel specification by the various departments.
“Once the rebuilt units are received, they are fitted to the car and the engineers confirm the set-up – depending on each driver’s preference – before the geometry of each car is set.
“Normally this process takes eight to ten days, so the boys have been working around the clock to get the cars completed in time.
Our technicians are amongst some of the best in the world and their hard work this week has seen the cars ready to rally in just four days!”