Kennards Hire Rally Australia was a noteworthy one for the M-Sport World Rally Team – waving goodbye to the current Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRC exactly twenty years to the week after signing an agreement with Ford and becoming regular contenders on the stages of the FIA World Rally Championship.
For the past two decades, M-Sport cars have competed at the head of the field and, for the past six years, the top-specification Fiesta has been the car of choice. Having been entered 531 times on 78 different events, the car has racked up 50 top-three finishes and three podium lockouts.
Contesting its final outing before retiring from top-flight competition, the Fiesta secured sixth place overall in the hands of Mads Østberg and Ola Fløene.
Quick out of the blocks, the Norwegians were rapidly up to speed and posted the third fastest time through the opening stage on Friday morning.
A second fastest time through the first pass of Valla (SS13) on Saturday had seen them challenge for what could have best Østberg’s best ever result on Australian soil, but the hard work was undone through the afternoon when he adapted a set-up that was too hard for the slippery conditions.
Lacking the confidence and traction that he had enjoyed earlier in the rally, Østberg fell to sixth but continued to post competitive times as the season entered the final day of competition.
Contesting five stages in the forests north of Coffs Harbour, the Norwegian held his own – consolidating his position and bringing the current Fiesta home in sixth place for the final time.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Éric Camilli and Benjamin Veillas suffered a mixed event, but impressed the team by quickly getting to grips with the distinct character of the Australian roads – setting the third fastest time on only the third stage of the event.
Continuing to set solid stage times on their Australian debut, the Frenchmen were on pace and in touch with their more experienced rivals.
Unfortunately, the final rally of their debut season came to an untimely end this morning when they got too deep into a right-hand corner and rolled the Fiesta on SS21.
With the end of this week’s event came the end of an era as new technical regulations for next season usher in more spectacular cars that hark back to the Group B days of old.
All attention now turns to next season and the new generation Ford Fiesta WRC. Having embarked on a rigorous test schedule, the team are relishing the challenges ahead and determined to make a return to the top step of the podium.
As a closing note, M-Sport would also like to thank Volkswagen Motorsport for their commitment to the sport. We commend their dedication to the FIA World Rally Championship and hope to see them back for more close-fought competition in the future.
Mads Østberg (6th) said:
“It’s been a good rally and I’ve been quite happy with the weekend. Like in Finland, we were able to set some really competitive times and were fighting close to the front. Unfortunately, there were just a few stages where we lost too much time and the big battles got away from us. Apart from that, it’s still been a really good weekend. We might only be sixth, but we had some really good stages and it was good to be back in the fight.
“It’s also been nice to have been at the very first rally with this Fiesta, and here again at its final outing in the WRC. I’ve had a lot of success in this car, especially from 2011 to 2013 where I had some really strong performances. It really took me forward in the championship and helped me gain a position as a manufacturer driver. The car really has meant a lot to me over the years.”
Éric Camilli (DNF) said:
“This time we didn’t deserve not to finish the rally. I don’t know if the word ‘unlucky’ exists in rallying as there are so many factors that can contribute to making you go off the road, but this one I think might be that.
“I thought the road would be very slippery, but in fact it was not. I turned in too early and went too deep into the corner. We went up on two wheels and rolled the car. It’s not a mistake because of experience, or a wrong pace note, or too much speed or anything like that, it’s just one of those things. We just need to forget about it and focus on the good race we were having before that moment.
“I really enjoyed the Australian stages and we were running a really good rally. We set a lot of good times and the most important thing was that our pace was very close to everyone else. We were in the battle and quite a few times we were setting times better than those with a lot more experience. We didn’t expect that, and for sure next year we will come back stronger.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“It is the end of an era as we say goodbye to the current Ford Fiesta RS WRC – a car which has delivered a lot of success over the past six years. Closing this chapter is made all the more special exactly 20 years after signing the contract with Ford.
“For two decades we have been competing at the head of the FIA World Rally Championship and I’m sure that further success lies ahead. I’m convinced that we have produced another rally-winning car with the new Ford Fiesta WRC and the whole team are now fully focussed on next season where we’ll be determined to make a return to the top step of the podium.
“Before we wave goodbye to 2016 however, we must commend Volkswagen Motorsport and thank them for their commitment to our sport. Their achievements have been marked and the whole service park has benefitted from their involvement. I speak for the whole team when saying that it has been a pleasure to compete with them and they will be sorely missed. We hope to see them return in the future for more close-fought competition.”