Making their Swedish debut, it was mission accomplished for Elfyn Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt.
One would be pushed to find two crews with more varied experience of Rally Sweden’s specialist stages, but M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen and Elfyn Evans both made a strong start to their respective rallies today.
As one of the podium contenders, Hirvonen secured fifth position while Evans achieved his Day 1 objective of making it through all six stages unscathed in 12th place overall.
Having made a welcome return to the M-Sport fold, Hirvonen was rediscovering his rhythm behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC – exchanging times with the leaders and setting himself up nicely for the remaining two days of competition.
He and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen put in a flawless performance as they got back to grips with their Fiesta’s handling – a fact which puts them well and truly in contention for the podium positions just 22.5 seconds adrift of the lead.
Making their Swedish debut, it was mission accomplished for Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt. Despite a half spin on the first test of the morning (Torsby 1, SS2), the pairing looked comfortable behind the wheel of their Fiesta RS WRC.
Gaining pace as the day’s action unfolded, the British duo accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience. With all to play for, Evans will be chasing a top-ten spot in the days to come. Mikko Hirvonen (=5th) said:
“It’s been a good day for us. On the first stage [SS2] I was a little bit cautious as I really didn’t want to make the same mistake as last year, but other than that everything has been OK.
“Our times have been a little bit up and down when compared to the leaders so we will have to wait and see what tomorrow brings. Our pace has been improving throughout the day, so hopefully we’ll be able to continue what we started and end tomorrow in another strong position.”
Elfyn Evans (12th): “It’s been a difficult day, but also a very valuable one. We made a small mistake on the first stage [SS2], but other than that we’ve had a completely clean run of stages which gives us a really good base to build on. I’ve certainly learnt a lot, and I’m looking forward to building on that again tomorrow.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE: “For what is usually an event with a consistent surface and good grip, I think that this is probably one of the most challenging Rally Sweden’s we have seen for more than 30 years. Both Mikko [Hirvonen] and Elfyn [Evans] have made a very solid start given the circumstances.
“Mikko is getting back to his best. He’s set some good times and is still well within touching distance. As we move into tomorrow’s stages, I hope his experience will come into play and that we’ll see him put some pressure on the leaders.
“Elfyn too has done exactly what he needed to do today. He’s taken a really intelligent approach – making it through all of the stages with no mistakes. I hope that he can continue to learn and gain more experience as the event continues.”
Additonal M-Sport crews
Making his return to the FIA World Rally Championship and the Ford Fiesta RS WRC, Ott Tänak was one of the stars of the day in fourth place overall. Having last contested the event in 2012, the Estonian put in an impressive performance. Challenging for the podium positions, Tänak claimed a stage win through the first pass of Kirkenær (SS5) and looked rejuvenated: customary speed perfectly synchronised with a mature, more composed Ott Tänak.
Also performing well, Pontus Tidemand and Henning Solberg find themselves in ninth and 13th positions respectively. As the only Swedish driver to take to the wheel of a world rally car, the Swedish flags were out in support of Tidemand – the youngster setting a good base on what is his first time in a top-specification Fiesta since this time last year.
Solberg has long been one of the championship’s most entertaining drivers, and he did not disappoint as he piloted his Fiesta RS WRC to the second fastest time through the first pass of Finnskogen (SS4). Unfortunately, the Norwegian suffered a puncture through the final speed test (Torsby 2, SS7) – hitting a stone and relegating him outside of the top-ten.
Ott Tänak (4th): “It’s been such a long time since my last WRC drive, so it really is a fantastic feeling to be back driving this car. Everything is working perfectly. I immediately had a good feeling with the car and we’ve just continued to keep that pace throughout the day.
“I don’t think I’m ready to push yet, but we will see. Tomorrow I want to have a risk free drive. We’ll see some longer stages and we’ll need to think about looking after the tyres. No matter how tempting it would be to push, we need to be smart.”
Pontus Tidemand (9th): “It’s been a good day for us. We need to make a few changes with the driving and the set-up of the car to best cope with these conditions, but I think we have put down a good base. We’ve had a good, clean run through all of the stages, and now we can look to build on that tomorrow.”
Henning Solberg (13th): “We lost a lot of time in the last stage [SS7]. We hit a stone and had to drive the whole stage with a puncture so that was a bit unlucky. But other than that we have had a really good day. It’s been a long time since I’ve been behind the wheel, so to see that the speed was still there was really good – a second fastest time [through SS4] for a man in his 40s isn’t so bad!”
M-Sport Managing Director, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “Ott [Tänak] has been one of the stars of today. Having been out of the WRC for 12 months, and then put in the performance that he has on such a specialist event is truly remarkable. His times have been consistently good and he has brought a new maturity which can only benefit him as the rally, and the season, continues. I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing what he can do tomorrow.”
M-Sport World Rally Team