Wales Rally GB brings some of the most challenging conditions of the year and today’s action proved to be no exception.
M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen is enjoying one final fight in the FIA World Rally Championship – battling for a podium position on the series’ traditional finale.
Wales Rally GB brings some of the most challenging conditions of the year and today’s action proved to be no exception. Contesting eight stages in the heart of some of Wales’ most iconic forests, mud and rain were the order of the day – but that wasn’t going to stand in the way of Hirvonen and his devoted co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen.
Setting a consistently strong pace, the pairing looked at one behind the wheel of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC; and as the conditions became more challenging, the Finns came into their own.
To finish my career on the podium would be really cool, but there is still a long way to go and a close fight with the guys behind.
The duo posted a string of competitive times throughout a difficult afternoon loop. Regularly just a handful of seconds adrift of the fastest times, their pace paid dividends and they climbed into a podium position through the second pass of Dyfi (SS6).
Hirvonen is keen to bid a fond farewell to the championship with a positive result, and is looking forward to continuing the fight tomorrow.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Elfyn Evans was taking the demanding stages in his stride. Leaving any pressure of a home event outside of the cockpit, the youngster focused on his own rally and his own ambitions.
The Welshman – who is partnered by experienced co-driver Daniel Barritt – came to Wales intent on gaining as much experience as possible whilst challenging the more experienced on occasion. Building his pace throughout the morning, the Welshman did just that.
Upping his pace over the afternoon loop, Evans will be keen to show further progress as the action reconvenes tomorrow.
Mikko Hirvonen (3rd) said: “I’m really happy – it’s been a good day, although definitely not an easy day! The conditions have been changeable and it’s been really slippery out there. We had to make some changes with the car as we weren’t completely happy with the set-up through all of the stages, but we came through holding third place which is great.
“To finish my career on the podium would be really cool, but there is still a long way to go and a close fight with the guys behind. I think tomorrow will be similar to today. Okay the stages are a bit shorter and the character is quite different from one to the next, but I think it could be another good day for us.”
Elfyn Evans (7th) said: “It’s been tough out there to be honest. The first pass was very enjoyable but I think it was clear to see that the further down the order you were, the more slippery it got. Then afternoon was really difficult and the grip was very, very low on most of the stages to be fair. We struggled at points, but I think that there were also a lot of positives and we’re glad to be here.
“I’ve got very little knowledge of tomorrow’s stages – apart from Dyfnant, albeit in the opposite direction. I won’t have the knowledge that I had today so we’ll just have to see how we go. If the notes are working well then we might push a bit more as we are here to perform as best we can.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “Mikko [Hirvonen] has done a great job and he’s in a good position going into tomorrow. He has plenty of experience of those stages and the sorts of conditions that we have experienced today. I’m confident that he can continue to set a good pace so let’s see what he can do. Of course there is still a long way to go, but it would be so fitting for him to finish his last rally with a podium.
“Elfyn [Evans] has done exactly what we asked of him today. This is his first time here in a world rally car and the conditions are extremely difficult. It’s so hard for the crews to judge the grip – especially over the second pass – but he’s in a strong seventh place which is where we would expect to see him given his limited experience.”
Additional M-Sport drivers
Ott Tänak (8th) said: “It was a tricky morning, but there was definitely more grip then than there was this afternoon! The main thing for us was to get used to a world rally car again and improve the speed stage by stage – and I think that was exactly what we did. We’ll do some fine-tuning with the set-up tonight to try and get some more confidence, and then tomorrow we just need to try and push a little bit more.”
Henning Solberg (9th) said: “We had some problems this morning, but they were fixed for the afternoon and I pushed really hard. I’m going to push like hell to improve our position tomorrow.”
Matthew Wilson (19th / 6th WRC 2) said: “This morning the first stage [Gartheiniog, SS1] was pretty good – I have good knowledge of it from previous years – but then when we went into the second one [Dyfi, SS2] the grip level was changing all the time and I struggled to get the rhythm. We had a bit of a slow time in there, and then we caught a slower car in [Hafren] Sweet Lamb [SS3] and had to give him a bit of a nudge to let him know we were there. But generally, the morning was really good. These Michelin tyres seem to be performing really, really well over the opening loop so I think we’ll go for a bit of a push to make the most of it tomorrow.
“Everything seemed to get better and better this afternoon and we had a much better run through Dyfi [SS6] in particular. The car has been great – it’s just the driver that needs to get a bit more consistent! In some places it’s been good, but then we’re losing a bit too much in silly places. Having said all that, I’ve really enjoyed it – it’s been great to be back and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Quentin Gilbert (22nd / 9th WRC 2) said: “The conditions were really tricky today and I didn’t have so much confidence. The pacenotes are okay, but I just didn’t have the confidence to push. This is only my second time here and my first time in a four-wheel-drive car. To drive quickly here you really need the experience, but we’ll work hard and see what we can do tomorrow.”
Yuriy Protasov (26th) said: “It’s not been such an easy day for us. The pacenotes are a little too slow – I think I expected there to be less grip that there actually was because even though the grip is low, in places it is definitely possible to go faster. But we have finished the first day which is important. It’s a new experience for me with this weather, so it is important to get the experience and to continue to learn.”
Nicolas Fuchs (29th / 13th WRC 2) said: “It’s been a very difficult event. I did this rally in 2011, but it is all different this year. We didn’t test before the event so we’ve been speaking a lot with our engineer to try and find the best set-up. Okay, we had a few problems, but it is a nice rally and I just need to learn more about these stages and these conditions.”
M-Sport World Rally Team