On gravel, M-Sport drivers put in a sensational performance, but as the surface changed to Tarmac...
The M-Sport World Rally Team enjoyed one of their best performances of the year yesterday, but events didn’t follow the same trend as the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRCs donned their Tarmac guise for the second day of RallyRACC Catalunya – Costa Daurada.
On gravel, Ott Tänak and co-driver Raigo Mõlder put in a sensational performance. Claiming more stage victories than any other crew, they were challenging for the lead and ended yesterday’s competitive stages in third place overall.
As the surface changed to Tarmac, the Estonian proved that he had the pace to maintain his podium position. Setting the fifth fastest time through the opening speed test (SS10) he outshone a number of Tarmac specialists – including local hero and fourth-placed man Dani Sordo.
Tänak looked set to maintain his speed through “La Figuera 1” (SS11) and was the fastest man through split section three. But then, disaster struck – the culprit being an overly optimistic pacenote made during the pre-event reconnaissance.
I can’t remember the last time we had both cars fail to finish a day,
Carrying too much speed into a right-hand corner, the Estonian understeered into a barrier which ripped the front-left wheel from his Fiesta RS WRC. Returning under Rally 2 regulations tomorrow, Tänak will be keen to prove his speed on Tarmac once again.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt had put the ghosts of the last loose-surface event behind them. Showing a marked improvement on gravel, the Welshman had the better of his championship rivals throughout much of yesterday and was hoping to pull clear as the action turned to his preferred sealed-surface terrain.
Building pace and confidence with each new kilometre it looked as though he would have every chance of doing just that, but the opportunity never arose.
Taking a cut on the first pass of ‘Capafonts’ (SS13), the Fiesta grounded on the sumpguard – forcing the car to understeer off the road and down a steep embankment. With no hope of getting back on the road, the Brits had no choice but to call an untimely end to their first day asphalt rallying.
With the damage to his Fiesta RS WRC fully repaired by M-Sport’s team of expert technicians, Evans will also restart under Rally 2 regulations tomorrow – eager to show the pace he could have displayed were it not for his earlier error.
Elsewhere in the WRC 2 category, another Fiesta driver was coming to the fore. Piloting a Ford Fiesta R5, Eric Camilli posted a string of highly competitive times. Never out of the top-two on all but one of the day’s eight speed tests, the young Frenchman won two special stages and currently holds a podium position in third place overall.
Elfyn Evans (42nd) said: “Everything was looking okay and we were in the ball-park in terms of getting back into the bottom half of the top-five. Unfortunately, we became a bit unstuck on SS13.
“We took a cut and the car grounded on the sumpguard. We started understeering off and as soon as it did that I couldn’t stop it. To make matters worse, there was a tree on the outside which we touched and that then sent us into a ditch that we couldn’t get out of.
“We have to go back out there tomorrow and do the same that we were doing to today. We had an okay rhythm so we just need to find that again to put us in a good frame of mind going into the last round of the season.”
Ott Tänak (51st) said: “We went out this morning with the same good feeling we had last night. Of course I have quite a lot less experience on Tarmac than I do on gravel, and we were in a position where we had to push really hard, but I think our pace was actually pretty good.
“In the end it was just one bad note – one bad note, on one corner, in 26 kilometres of corners. The note was far too optimistic and we understeered into the barrier and took the wheel off.
“Tomorrow I want get out there and see what we can do. We had some pressure on us today and we had to push hard so it’ll be nice to drive without that pressure. I just want to find that sweet limit – without pushing – and get a good feeling on Tarmac.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “After such a positive day yesterday, it’s really disappointing how today turned out. We were feeling confident ahead of the Tarmac stages, but it didn’t go our way this time.
“I can’t remember the last time we had both cars fail to finish a day, but we just have to keep focused on the positives. We know that we had the speed to do well here, and both Ott [Tänak] and Elfyn [Evans] will restart under Rally 2 regulations tomorrow.
“It will provide them with a good opportunity to gain more experience and more seat time so that they can head to the final round in a positive frame of mind.
“It’s always great to see another young driver developing his skills and I have been very impressed with Eric Camilli’s performance in the WRC 2 category today. There are a lot of strong drivers here, and he has posted a string of simply fantastic times with the Ford Fiesta R5.”