Rally Australia marks M-Sport’s 250th WRC event
M-Sport returns to Coates Hire Rally Australia with a significant milestone. The tenth round of the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) marks M-Sport’s 250th WRC event; and what better place to celebrate than at one of the team’s most favoured hunting grounds.
Nestled on the subcontinent’s Gold Coast, the Australian fixture has played host to a number of M-Sport success stories and provides another technical challenge for the crews.
Those looking to be in the running for the top positions must quickly get back up to speed on gravel. Following the asphalt roads of Rallye Deutschland, the crews must reaffirm the art of gravel rallying – the nature of the road and the way the car handles through the loose terrain.
It’s another new event for us so the focus will be back on learning the stages and gaining as much experience as we can for next year.
They must find the confidence to push through the fast, flowing roads and maintain a good rhythm as the route is interspersed with tighter, twistier sections. Finding the right balance between speed and caution is key – become over confident and too ambitious on the pre-event reconnaissance and you’ll pay the price. The route traverses dense rain forest and the trees that line the stages pose an ever-present threat – awaiting the smallest of mistakes.
The challenge has proved fruitful for M-Sport in the past – the Cumbrian firm securing victory on three separate occasions with Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn has an abundance of experience in Australia and can boast an impressive podium-finish rate of 67 per cent.
The event played host to the first WRC victory for Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen in 2006, and the pairing will be looking to be challenging at the head of the field once again next week. Gaining confidence, the Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver is just one point shy of fourth place in the championship standings and will be looking to claim that position with a strong result.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Elfyn Evans can certainly learn from his team mate’s extensive experience. The Welshman travels to Australia having produced one of his best ever performances at the wheel of rally car in Germany, but won’t necessarily be looking for a repeat performance Down Under.
Rally Australia marks the final new event of the year for Evans but the youngster is no stranger to the Australian rally scene having piloted a Ford Fiesta R2 at last year’s National Capital Rally. Next week’s rally offers a completely different challenge and he and co-driver Daniel Barritt remain focussed on gaining the experience that will see them progress to an even higher level next year.
Mikko Hirvonen said: “This rally has always been a good event for us. In 2006 we claimed our first [FIA World Rally Championship] win in Australia, so it will always hold a lot of amazing memories for me.
“We have occasionally been lucky, but the stages are fantastic to drive and some of them have a very similar character to those in Finland – it almost feels like being back at home sometimes!
“They’re [the stages] generally pretty fast, but there is a good mix of slower sections through the forests. It’s the nature of the gravel which is tricky here. It’s pretty loose so road position can be very important. If it rains, it’s unbelievably slippery, and if it’s dry, it can be really dusty. There’s a challenge no matter what the conditions, but more than anything it’s just flat-out enjoyment!
“We’ll definitely be looking towards the podium next week. There’s no reason why we can’t achieve that and I can’t wait to get out there and experience the stages again.”
Elfyn Evans said: “It’s another new event for us so the focus will be back on learning the stages and gaining as much experience as we can for next year. I do have some experience of the Australian rally scene having been lucky enough to contest the National Capital Rally with the Ford Fiesta R2 last year, but I think it’s fair to say that next week will be a completely different challenge!
“We’ve been doing as much as we can to prepare. I watch the organisers’ videos as much as possible to get a feel for the stages but there really is nothing like the first-hand experience of returning to an event for the second or third time.
“In that respect, I’ll be sure to have a chat with Mikko [Hirvonen]. He has so much experience of this event and has had a lot of success here. His advice has been really valuable for the new events and I hope we can feed off that again next week.
“From what I know of the stages, it looks as though there will be no margin for error – especially in the tighter sections through the forests. For us, we just need to ensure that we make it to the end with the knowledge to move forward next year.
“There will be a lot of crews with a point to prove, but if we can concentrate on our own event and gaining the experience that we are here to secure, then it will be a positive weekend for us.”
M-Sport Managing Director, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “I can’t quite believe that we are already at our 250th [FIA World Rally Championship] event. It’s a significant milestone for M-Sport and testament to the hard-work and commitment of every single member of the team – both on the events and back in the workshop in Cumbria.
“Throughout those 250 events we’ve enjoyed more than 200 podiums with various drivers, more than 50 victories and two World Rally Championship titles for Ford. Here’s to another successful 250.”