Treacherous Monte conditions test Qatar M-Sport quartet on leg 1

The Qatar M-Sport crews proved that they could maintain their composure and keep their Ford Fiesta RS WRCs firmly on the road.

Qatar M-Sport’s quartet tackled the challenge of Rallye Monte-Carlo head-on today as they embarked on the traditional start of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).

Evgeny Novikov and Ilka Minor, Ford Fiesta WRC, Qatar M-Sport WRC
Evgeny Novikov and Ilka Minor, Ford Fiesta WRC, Qatar M-Sport WRC

Photo by: XPB Images

After the first full day of competition, Evgeny Novikov lies sixth with Mads Østberg seventh* and Juho Hänninen eighth. Unfortunately there was misfortune for Belgium’s latest protégé, Thierry Neuville. Having set an impressive pace on his debut with the Ford Fiesta RS WRC, the young Belgian was forced to retire from the event on SS4.

With treacherous conditions the order of the day, confidence in compromise and tyre selection was key – something that the foursome initially took in their stride. Attacking the opening loop with Michelin’s studded winter tyre, the largely dry asphalt of SS1 meant that the tungsten studs – that are designed to capture grip on the ice and snow – were all but gone by the start of the second test. With much of SS2 encompassing more wintry conditions, the going was tough, but the Qatar M-Sport crews proved that they could maintain their composure and keep their Ford Fiesta RS WRCs firmly on the road.

Contesting his first event in a world rally car, Hänninen set the third fastest time through SS2 to secure fourth place overall going into midday service. Neuville also impressed with a series of competitive split times aiding his journey to fifth place in the overall classifications. Elsewhere, despite struggling to find a consistent rhythm in the continually changing conditions, Østberg and Novikov were holding their own in seventh and eighth places respectively – 15 seconds up on Volkswagen Motorsport’s Jari-Matti Latvala.

Returning for the afternoon loop, tyre management was key as all four Qatari-liveried Fiestas left service with a combination of two slick, two snow and two studded tyres. Struggling with the tyre combination, Hänninen lost time to fall from fourth to eighth.

Østberg was the man on the move through the second pass of ‘Burzet – St Martial’ [SS4] setting the third fastest time to prove that the Norwegian has some real pace on a difficult event on which he has never previously competed. Unfortunately for the 25-year-old, an electrical problem on the road section delayed his return to service. Despite incurring a one minute and fifty second penalty, Østberg holds seventh* place going into the final day of competition.

Elsewhere however, Neuville damaged the front-left wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC having clipped a deep cut on SS4. Unable to get his Fiesta back on the road, the 24-year-old was forced to make an untimely withdrawal from the event.

Evgeny Novikov (6th) said:

“This afternoon was quite difficult with the combination tyres. The grip is changing all the time which makes it difficult to know when you can and can’t push to the maximum. But [overall] I am happy with the pace we are setting. This is a long and difficult rally and the most important thing is to stay on the road to gain as much experience as possible.”

Mads Østberg (7th)* said:

“I was quite happy with the results on the stages. When I came to the end I felt that my time was really bad, but then I saw that the others were suffering a bit as well, so I think it was difficult for all the cars further back [in the running order]. So actually I was quite happy with my performance this afternoon.

“We are struggling a little bit and I can’t quite get the rhythm 100 per cent correct. I don’t know exactly what to do when driving with winter tyres on Tarmac – I’m finding it a bit difficult in that situation. When we are on the snow and the tyres are correct then it’s going well, but on the Tarmac I’m still learning.

“Then on the road section back to service after the last stage [SS4] we had an electrical problem on the car. Luckily we made it back to service and we are still here – and not in so bad a position actually!”

Juho Hänninen (8th) said:

“This afternoon was not as good as this morning. I had two slicks crossed with the snow tyres on SS3 and I was not so confident with this combination. I drove quite carefully over the last stage [SS4], but I had a spin about four or five kilometres from the end in a very narrow section. I had to reverse three or four times and stalled the engine so we lost quite a bit of time there.”

Thierry Neuville (DNF) said:

“We were working really hard to try and find a good rhythm and finish the rally. We were following the line on SS4 but there was a big cut and we knocked the wheel slightly against the side. We continued but something did not feel right at all. We stopped to check what was wrong and the front-left wheel had been damaged. Unfortunately we were not able to fix it.

“Obviously this is very frustrating for us as we were quite happy with the pace and running in a really good position [fifth place]. Yes, this is a difficult rally and these things happen, but it is very disappointing for me.”

Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:

“There has certainly been some drama today. Sadly we lost Thierry [Neuville] on the last stage [SS4] while he was going well, which was obviously disappointing. But if you look at the time differences inside the top-ten, you would have to say that anything is still possible.”

{*} Subject to addition of time penalty.

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Jari-Matti Latvala , Malcolm Wilson , Ilka Minor , Juho Hanninen , Evgeny Novikov , Thierry Neuville
Teams M-Sport , Volkswagen Motorsport
Article type Leg report
Tags fiesta, ford, m-sport, neuville, novikov, qatar, rallye monte carlo, wilson, wrc