The Qatar M-Sport drivers put in another sterling performance today as Rallye Monte-Carlo ventured south for the third leg of competitive rallying. Producing a string of excellent stage times, Russian star Evgeny Novikov moved into the final podium position with Juho Hänninen maintaining seventh and Mads Østberg securing eighth place overall.
Comfortable behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, Novikov had the better of rival Dani Sordo. Taking 16 seconds out of the experienced Spaniard on SS12, the Muscovite showcased his potential as a real contender in this season’s championship.
Perhaps more impressively however, SS12 also saw Østberg secure a stage win on his maiden outing at this notoriously difficult season opener. Triumphing by 2.1 seconds, the Norwegian joined just a handful of drivers to have impressed to such an extent on their Monte-Carlo debut.
Østberg’s stage win also means that each of the Qatar M-Sport drivers has claimed a fastest time during the event – Thierry Neuville on Shakedown, Novikov on SS6 and SS7, Hänninen on SS9 and Østberg on SS12 – a feat that goes to prove the competitiveness of M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta rally car.
Evgeny Novikov (3rd) said:
“Today has been a good day and of course I am very happy with the position at the moment. Tomorrow we have another five stages so we will have to see what the weather will be, but for the moment we are happy.
“I think it is better for me if it is fully dry or full snow. We still have some difficulties in the mixed conditions, but it is not so bad. We are gaining a lot of experience and that is the most important thing.
“Yes, this is only my second year and I am doing quite well, but it is difficult to explain exactly why. I am here to fight and achieve good results – that is all I try to do on every rally.”
Juho Hänninen (7th) said:
“Today has been OK. We went on the safe side with the tyres because I want to save some new studs for tomorrow if it snows as the weather is suggesting. I am quite happy with my driving and I feel as though we are learning more and more each stage.
“Thanks again to the team because the car has been perfect all rally.”
Mads Østberg (8th) said:
“We made some more changes to the car in service and that worked a lot better for me this afternoon. We had a stage win [SS12] which was really good – it felt like everything just came together for us on that stage. To be honest I think we just calmed down and started again – that’s where the confidence has come from.
“We had a lot of discussions with our engineer last night so we knew what to do and understood what was necessary to go faster. Instantly it worked, and that was a good thing for sure.
“I think we had a really good run on the last stage as well but we were on the wrong tyres. I have certainly learnt a lot more about driving on Tarmac with snow tyres and I think we are progressing well in all areas. Hopefully we can continue to improve tomorrow.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE said:
“It’s been another fantastic day for the team. It is especially pleasing to see that all of our drivers have now had a fastest time. We have a big team and the fact that all of them are capable of recording stage wins just goes to prove how competitive the Fiesta [RS WRC] is and certainly bodes well for the rest of the season.
“It is also good to see how all three drivers have adapted to what have been some of the most difficult Monte conditions for many years – I certainly haven’t seen conditions as tricky as this for a long time!”