As RallyRACC Rally de España started in style this evening, the Qatar M-Sport crews got off to a solid start. With M-Sport making up more than half of the event’s entry, it may come as no surprise that the Cumbrian firm’s designed and manufactured Ford Fiestas also accounted for 50 per cent of the overall top-ten come the end of Day 1.
Before tackling three daunting stages under the cover of darkness, the crews stopped off at the region’s capital in Barcelona – entertaining the enthusiastic fans in attendance. Of course it was not all fun and games, and once the merriments of Barcelona came to a close, the Qatar M-Sport squad had to master a challenging opening loop.
Contesting 61.75 kilometres of fast, asphalt, night stages on their journey back to the Salou-based service park, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul got their Rally de España campaign off to a promising start. Despite struggling to find a perfect rhythm and set-up behind the wheel of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC, the Qatar World Rally Team pairing hold a strong fourth place going into tomorrow’s stages – well within reach of a sought-after podium position.
In the sister Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC, Mads Østberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson had to contend with finding both the perfect rhythm behind the wheel and the optimum set-up for their Fiesta. Yet thanks to a composed drive, the Norwegian finds himself well within the top-ten and ready for a resurgent comeback as the rally continues tomorrow.
New to the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard had a sensational start to their new-generation world rally car debut. Despite admitting to a steady approach – not 100 per cent comfortable with their set-up – New Zealand’s finest set a string of encouraging times behind the wheel of their Fiesta RS WRC. With the upper hand over a number of those accustomed to the power of today’s modern world rally cars, the pairing’s impressive start sees them placed within the top-ten with the promise of taking further strides as the event continues.
Piloting the second Qatar World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini put in a clever start to their rally. Well aware of the risks shrouding this evening’s tricky speed tests, the Qatari took a cautious approach to the super-quick stages which are made all the more treacherous under the cover of darkness. Finishing the day just outside of the top-ten, Al-Attiyah will be looking to take his knowledge from last weekend’s Rally Cyprus – another mixed-surface event – forward for the remainder of the rally.
Elsewhere, in WRC 2, Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt overcame an intermittent misfire on the first stage of the evening to finish the day in a strong second place. Piloting their Ford Fiesta R5, the pairing were never out of the top-three on individual stage times and look on course to secure another good result.
Thierry Neuville (4th) said:
“It was quite a difficult evening for us as I wasn’t 100 per cent comfortable with either the set-up of the car or the pacenotes. We were definitely losing too much time, but I think that that was the best we could have done and we’ll work hard with the team to change the settings for tomorrow and hopefully do better.”
Evgeny Novikov (7th) said:
“This evening has been OK for us. Of course it was interesting to drive in darkness because it has been a long time since we have driven any night stages. From the second stage onwards we were following Thierry’s [Neuville] split times and so far everything is going OK and we are looking forward to tomorrow.”
Mads Østberg (8th) said:
“It has been a challenging first day, but we are here which is the main thing. We have been struggling with the gear-changes, and I don’t think the gearbox option we came up with in testing worked so well for us this evening, but I hope it will be better on tomorrow’s stages.”
Hayden Paddon (9th) said:
“This evening was a challenge, but we got up to speed with the car reasonably quickly and I felt comfortable. We were struggling with the set-up a little so the times aren’t exactly where we want them to be just yet. Nevertheless, we got through this evening and we got some more miles under our belts. Tonight we are going to make the car a bit stiffer so hopefully we can improve a lot tomorrow.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah (12th) said:
“Honestly, it has not been a bad evening for us. I find the night stages quite difficult and we have never driven these stages before so we decided to manage our pace and finish all of the stages without any issues. We know what we have to do tomorrow, so I hope we can make some good progress.”
Elfyn Evans (2nd in WRC 2) said:
“We had a bit of an issue from quite early on in the first stage, but through talking with the team we managed to rectify it and the car was running properly from then on. It was a shame to lose the time to Robert [Kubica] as I was looking forward to really taking the fight to him here this weekend. That said, I think there is certainly a lot more to come from me this weekend and I am really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“I think all of the drivers have struggled a little with the set-up in these dark conditions, but with some small adjustments, I am sure we will be better placed tomorrow. Despite struggling to find the optimum set-up, Hayden [Paddon] in particular has been very impressive on his debut and I am sure there is more to come from him as we move into tomorrow.
“It’s been a solid start to the rally. All of the cars have run without any issues and that gives us a good base to build on tomorrow.”
Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team