Since Rallye Monte-Carlo 2002, the manufacturer Fords have never failed to finish outside of the points.
M-Sport World Rally Team looked on course to secure a top position at this weekend’s RallyRACC Catalunya – Costa Daurada, but when Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans failed to finish yesterday’s stages, the Spanish fixture turned into a fight of a different kind.
Since Rallye Monte-Carlo 2002, the manufacturer Fords have never failed to finish outside of the points. With 195 consecutive points finishes (as of this year’s Tour de Corse), it’s an unbroken record that the team holds dear and were determined not to lose.
The event started well for M-Sport as Tänak and co-driver Raigo Mõlder proved that the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRC has the pace to challenge at the top. Fighting for the lead of the rally through the gravel speed tests, the pairing found themselves just 0.9 seconds adrift of the top spot on two separate occasions.
There is still some work to do and we’ll put the hours in over the next two weeks as we’re all determined to end the season with a strong result on home soil.
Claiming more stage victories than any other crew, the Estonians ended the first day in third position with three stage wins to their name.
As the action turned to Tarmac, Tänak showed that he had the pace to maintain his podium and things were looking good for M-Sport.
Up to speed from the very first test, he out-performed a number of Tarmac specialists – including local hero and fourth-placed man Dani Sordo.
Heading into the longest stage of the morning (SS11), it looked as though the Estonian had well and truly regained his Tarmac pace – setting the fastest time through split section three – but he was not to reach the flying finish.
An overly optimistic pacenote was the culprit. Carrying too much speed into a right-hand corner, he understeered into the barrier which ripped the front-left wheel from his Fiesta.
It was a devastating blow but he, and the team, took comfort from the fact the speed was there – Tänak returning to set a number of encouraging times including the fastest time though the final split of SS19.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt showed a marked improvement on gravel and had the better of their championship rivals throughout much of the opening day.
As the action turned to his preferred surface, the Welshman built pace and confidence with each new kilometre and it looked as though he would have every chance of fighting for the top-five positions. Unfortunately, the opportunity never came.
Taking an ambitious cut through 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, he had no choice but to accept Rally 2 regulations which forced him well down the standings.
Returning for the final day of competition, Evans had one goal – securing a world championship point to maintain the team’s unbroken record.
Mission accomplished, M-Sport claimed three manufacturer points – bringing their total to 196 FIA World Rally Championship events in the points.
Elfyn Evans (34th) said: “It’s been a disappointing weekend for the team, especially after the highs of Corsica. We wanted to do a lot more but unfortunately it wasn’t to be – an overly ambitious cut from myself ending what could have been a solid result.
“I think the pace is there on Tarmac but because of my mistake we didn’t get to show that this weekend. We also made a step forward on gravel which is a positive ahead of Wales Rally GB.
“There is still some work to do and we’ll put the hours in over the next two weeks as we’re all determined to end the season with a strong result on home soil.”
Ott Tänak (41st) said: “It was a big disappointment for the whole team on Saturday as we had the pace to really challenge for the podium this weekend. At the end of the day it was just one bad note, and when you don’t have the experience of these stages that is always a risk.
“There are still a lot of positives that we can take away from this rally. Our speed on gravel was strong, but I was actually more pleased with our pace on Tarmac. I feel as though we’re really starting to rebuild our confidence on that surface and the more kilometres we do, the more confident we’ll get.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:“This has been a really disappointing event for the team – one small mistake from both Ott [Tänak] and Elfyn [Evans] ruing what could have been a really strong result.
“The small consolation is that we leave Spain with our consecutive points-scoring record still intact. We’ve now scored points on 196 consecutive rallies and I definitely didn’t want to see that come to end!
“We can also draw strength from the ever-increasing pace of Ott, Elfyn and the Ford Fiesta RS WRC on gravel. We’ll be targeting a podium on home soil and we all want to end the season on a high.”
M-Sport World Rally Team