Mikko Hirvonen and Elfyn Evans are locked in an intense duel.
Following a dramatic day of competition at Rallye Deutschland, M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen and Elfyn Evans are locked in an intense duel. After more than 250 kilometres of competitive stages, just 4.9 seconds separates the two team mates in sixth and seventh places respectively.
Contesting two loops of four identical speed tests, the action unfolded amidst the narrow tracks of the vineyards and the treacherous Hinkelsteins of the Baumholder military ground. If that were not daunting enough, the unpredictable weather played havoc with tyre selection but both M-Sport men rose to the challenge.
There’s no denying that Elfyn [Evans] has been driving really well so I’m sure we’ll have a nice fight with him tomorrow!
Putting his experience to good use, Hirvonen adopted a steady start to the morning – finding his rhythm amongst inconsistent levels of grip which caught out the very best. Never one to give up the fight, the Finn refused to let his cautious approach dishearten his spirit when Evans jumped ahead; stiffening the set-up of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, the Finn started the second loop on a charge.
Securing the fourth fastest time through the second pass of ‘Stein & Wein’ (SS11), Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen regained their sixth place. As the rain blighted the final three speed tests, the duo consolidated their position ready to take advantage when the action resumes tomorrow.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt continued to impress with some significant progress. Having had the better of their nearest – and more experienced – rivals through the opening loop, the Brits climbed as high as sixth overall.
Coming into his own, the Welshman had the confidence to take a few risks in the afternoon as one of only two drivers to opt for a combination of Michelin’s hard and soft compound tyres on a drying SS11. His choice may not have yielded the gains he had hoped, but it certainly portrayed a driver with an ever-increasing belief in his own ability.
Having already identified areas for improvement, Evans will be keen to make further gains as he builds the momentum that could see him impress to an even greater extent in the future.
Mikko Hirvonen (6th) said: “This afternoon has been pretty good as we’ve been more or less on the same pace as the others. It was a shame that we weren’t quite there this morning as we’ve lost a bit too much to the boys who are fighting for the podium, but that’s just the way it is.
“We made some changes to the car before the second loop and I was a lot happier even in the wet conditions. We made the suspension a little stiffer, but sometimes a small change like that can make all the difference and I felt much more comfortable in the car.
“There’s no denying that Elfyn [Evans] has been driving really well so I’m sure we’ll have a nice fight with him tomorrow!”
Elfyn Evans (7th) said: “It’s not been a bad day and we had a really good start to the morning but we’ve lost a place that we hoped we could hold on to this afternoon. Of course it’s just one of those things and it’s still really close so there’s all to play for.
“I don’t think our tyre choices were necessarily wrong today, but maybe not 100 per cent correct for all of the stages. It’s always a compromise here and it’s very difficult to say what was the right choice. Panzerplatte was very mixed and on the first stage this afternoon [SS11] we decided to take a mix of softs and hards which felt good in the car, but maybe didn’t quite transfer to the times.
“I think we’ve put in a really good performance on our world rally car debut on asphalt and I’d like to continue and improve on that tomorrow. We need to remember why we’re here, but we’re not going to make it too easy for these old boys!”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “It’s going to be interesting to see how the battle between Mikko [Hirvonen] and Elfyn [Evans] unfolds tomorrow and I think they’re both looking forward to the fight.
“There’s no question that Elfyn’s performance has been highly impressive. It’s his first time with a world rally car on asphalt and he’s already challenging those with considerably more experience. The most encouraging thing is that he is already identifying the areas where he can improve and go faster – that’s very positive.”
Additional M-Sport Drivers
Dennis Kuipers (11th) said: “It’s been a strange day with some dry sections and some wet sections. This afternoon in particular was very difficult. We started with a dry stage [SS11] which was good, but then the next one [SS12] was full wet with heavy rain. Then on the Panzerplatte stages it was so slippery. On the short one [SS13] we went straight on at a chicane and hit a bale – I don’t know how we made it through but we did! After that, we took no risks on the long one [SS14] and just made sure that we made it to the end.
“It’s getting better and better and the confidence is coming back. After such a long time without driving it takes a while to get the rhythm, but it’s coming and it’s great to build the momentum ahead of the next event.”
Yuriy Protasov (12th) said: “On the first stage of the afternoon [SS11] I immediately felt that we were driving a lot better than we were on the first loop and I was really happy with my driving. Then when the rain came [on SS12] it was so slippery and we lost a lot of time.
“Stepping up to a world rally car for the first time is never easy, but in these conditions it’s really tricky! We’ve learnt so much and I’m really enjoying it. It’s all really valuable experience for us.”
Pontus Tidemand, 2013 FIA Junior World Rally Champion (4th in WRC 2) said: “This is rally, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We were driving really well before the puncture on the last stage [SS14] and I think we can be pleased with the job we have done so far. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s good to drive a rally again so we have to be happy with that.
“The gap to second place is not too big so for sure we can try to take that, but I think the win is gone now. We’ll just continue as we have and see what we can do.”
M-Sport World Rally Team