Success as Super 2000 Premiers on Tarmac This weekend marked the first time that M-Sport and Ford's first global rally car, the Ford Fiesta Super 2000, contested an all-tarmac WRC round. Despite Bulgaria not acting as an official Super...
Success as Super 2000 Premiers on Tarmac
This weekend marked the first time that M-Sport and Ford's first global rally car, the Ford Fiesta Super 2000, contested an all-tarmac WRC round.
Despite Bulgaria not acting as an official Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) round, Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor and Dennis Kuipers/Fred Miclotte produced first and second place finishes in the Group N category whilst also gaining valuable experience of the new generation rally car on asphalt.
Henning Solberg, the first WRC driver to experience tarmac in both a Ford Focus RS WRC and a Ford Fiesta Super 2000 car, got off to a solid start in the opening day of Rally Bulgaria, pulling into the end of day service just 57.8 seconds behind his Stobart M-Sport Ford team-mate, Matthew Wilson.
Bulgaria was the first time that Dennis Kuipers had driven a Super 2000 on tarmac and the 24-year-old Dutchman reported difficulties with his car's set-up in the opening four rounds. Kuipers, therefore, adopted a cautious driving approach on his first day and finished in nineteenth position overall.
Tyre choice proved critical on the second day of Rally Bulgaria but Kuipers and Solberg decided to try different tyres. Solberg opted for Pirelli's hard compound PZero tyres whereas Kuipers went for the soft tyres. This decision benefited Kuipers during Friday's opening stage which was wet and slippery, suiting the soft tyres which held a better grip on asphalt. During the midday service, Solberg's mechanics changed the power steering pump due to a reported leakage during SS6.
By Saturday afternoon, the rising temperatures meant that the repeat loop no longer favoured Kuiper's tyre choice but were better suited to Solberg's hard compound tyres. Kuipers reported that he had no problems for the first 15km of SS8 but for the remainder of the stage, his tyres were too hot which meant he struggled with grip. Despite this, Kuipers managed to find a good setting during the final two stages on Saturday afternoon and both drivers pulled into the end of day service in high spirits.
During Saturday's end of day service, Kuiper's dampers were changed and Solberg's throttle cable was replaced. By the end of day two, Solberg remained in tenth position and Kuipers had moved up the leader board and was sitting in fifteenth position overall. Only five seconds separated the 24-year-old driver and former Formula One Champion, Kimi Raikkonen, who was in fourteenth position.
Hot weather greeted the S2000 crews for the final day of Rally Bulgaria and both drivers went for hard compound tyres to suit the hotter road surfaces. Neither Kuipers or Solberg were prepared to take any big risks during the final four stages but Kuipers reported a perfect set-up on the car for the final day. The young Dutchman successfully moved up two positions, finishing Rally Bulgaria thirteenth overall and second in the Group N category. Solberg was first in the Group N category and an impressive tenth place overall.
Henning Solberg said:
"The [Ford Fiesta] S2000 car is very good news for us and for the WRC. It is very controlled on tarmac and I think the smaller car is well suited on tarmac. If only the S2000 had a turbo - it'd be a tough car to beat on this road surface! I'm looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the S2000 next month for Rally Germany, especially now that I have found a good rhythm in the car. I've already contested Germany in a [Ford] Focus before so will know what to expect in terms of the stages next time."
Dennis Kuipers said:
"My main aim this year is to get to know the [Ford Fiesta] Super 2000 and to get used to driving the car. I struggled with the set up on Friday but everything ran much smoother on Saturday and Sunday. The set up felt great today and on the final stages, I was getting very good grip. I didn't want to take any big risks this weekend and I think this strategy paid off as I improved my position on the final leader board each day. Clean driving and set up proved to be the most important factors for this event."
M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson said:
"I was interested to see how the Ford Fiesta Super 2000 would fair on tarmac and judging from Henning's feedback and from the results, it seems to have been very successful. Dennis did really well finishing thirteenth overall, this is the first time he's driven on tarmac in this car so it's a very impressive result."