FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) returns to Rally Australia next week.
M-Sport World Rally Team’s Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak are awaiting another opportunity to showcase their speed and progression as the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) returns to Rally Australia next week.
The new Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRC has already proven its pace on gravel, and the team’s young squad will be looking to utilise that as they build experience of an event on which they have relatively little experience.
Nestled on the Gold Coast between Brisbane and Sydney, this picturesque setting masks a more sinister side. The route combines fast, flowing roads with tighter, twistier sections that require total concentration.
The biggest challenge is the visibility.
Shire roads are lined with trees that threaten any competitor who dares to venture even slightly off line and the low angle of the sun can create a strobe effect through the forests – all of which make precise pacenotes of vital importance.
Both M-Sport drivers had their first taste of the Australian stages last year – Evans at the wheel of the Fiesta RS WRC and Tänak with the Ford Fiesta R5 – but that didn’t stop them hinting at the potential they could produce in years to come.
Evans improved his pace significantly over the course of last year’s event – posting a fourth fastest time to challenge the leaders on the final day – and will be looking to build on that performance this year.
The Welshman – who is partnered by co-driver Daniel Barritt – is determined to showcase his progression on gravel; and if they can get into a good rhythm from the off, the Brits have the potential to spring a few surprises next week.
Tänak’s one and only experience of the Australian stages came as part of the WRC’s premier support series last year. The Estonian displayed impressive pace and outperformed a number his WRC rivals on several stages.
Partnered by compatriot co-driver Raigo Mõlder, Tänak has the speed to exceed expectations on what will be his 50th appearance in the WRC. His limited experience won’t deter him and he’ll be looking to challenge for a strong result as the championship returns to his preferred surface.
Elfyn Evans said: “I’m looking forward to getting back to gravel. We’ve had a few loose-surface events in the new car and I want to continue the progression we’ve shown so far.
“It’s a nice event for a driver as the stages and scenery are incredible. The biggest challenge is the visibility. Sometimes we can be hampered by hanging dust and when the sun is low it can create a strobe effect through the trees which makes it difficult to read the road. You need to have complete confidence in your notes to do well.
“I experienced Rally Australia for the first time 12 months ago and I want to improve on that performance this year. Now that we’re almost up to speed we’re always looking to challenge for the podium, but I know that there will be a lot of drivers pushing for the top positions next week. If we can finish in the top-five, I think that would be a strong result given our limited experience.”
Ott Tänak said: “It’s a nice feeling to be heading back to gravel. It’s a more familiar surface for me and we know that we can be competitive so I’m looking forward to it.
“I’ve only done this event once before and that was with a [Ford] Fiesta R5 but that doesn’t really change my approach. Of course it means that it will be one of the more challenging events for me and Raigo [Mõlder, co-driver], but the stages are fast and smooth which should suit us. If we can have a good recce, then I’m sure we’ll be ready for it.
“The biggest challenge coming to Australia is how different it is. The nature and even the stages themselves are very different to anything else we experience throughout the year. The gravel is almost red in colour and the forests can cast some very unfamiliar shadows so you have to drive to your notes and have complete confidence in them.
“It’s difficult to say how competitive we will be having never driven a world rally car at this event, but I definitely want to be competitive and the top-five is the minimum we’ll be aiming for.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “This is an event that holds a lot of special memories for the team. We have historically performed well on the Australian stages, but we also need to remember that neither driver has a lot of experience when it comes to this event.
“Both drivers experienced the Australian stages for the first time last year, and Ott [Tänak] has never driven a world rally car here. That said, we know that they and the car have the pace. If they can find a good rhythm early on, a strong result could well be on the cards.”
M-Sport World Rally Team