M-Sport World Rally Teamâ€™s Ott TÃ¤nak was back at this weekendâ€™s Vodafone Rally de Portugal with what Team Principal Malcolm Wilson has described as one of his best FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) performances to date.
Hinting at the huge potential he and the new Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRC have to unleash, the Estonian will be one to watch as the season progresses.
Following a disappointing start to his 2015 campaign, TÃ¤nak was keen to secure a solid result and todayâ€™s top-five finish provides a massive confidence boost for the future.
Remarking on the perfect handling of his new charge, he was able to set a string of competitive stage times whilst taking little risk behind the wheel.
Partnered by compatriot co-driver Raigo MÃµlder, the pair were fighting for a podium position in the eventâ€™s early phases, but when a compromised tyre strategy set them back they opted to consolidate their position for guaranteed points.
TÃ¤nakâ€™s encouraging performance confirms that the team are now well on course to securing their pre-season goal of challenging for the podium more regularly in the second half of the season.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, this weekendâ€™s event is one that Elfyn Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt will be keen to forget.
Having made a consistent start to his championship, the Welshman looked on course to impress this weekend â€“ three seconds clear of World Champion Sebastien Ogier midway through Fridayâ€™s opening speed test (SS2).
Unfortunately it was not to be as a fault with the throttle pedal fly-by-wire â€“ a tried and tested part carried over from the previous homologation â€“ put paid to his efforts just three kilometres shy of the stage end.
An uncharacteristic mistake then robbed him of an opportunity to experience Saturdayâ€™s stages when he damaged the suspension of his Fiesta RS WRC on SS8.
Returning for todayâ€™s final tests, Evans now turns focus to next monthâ€™s Rally dâ€™Italia where he and Barritt will be keen to prove their own potential at the wheel of M-Sportâ€™s new Fiesta RS WRC.
Ott TÃ¤nak â€œI have really enjoyed this weekend and have had such a great feeling in the car. Considering the last couple of events it was important to get a solid result to keep moving forward and that is exactly what we did.
â€œI need to thank all of the engineers, the guys in the workshop and of course the test team because we have all been working really hard for the last couple of months to get the car as it is now. Whatever I want it to do, it does it so easily. It really is a dream to drive.
â€œThere is no doubt that there is more to come from me and weâ€™ve also identified some areas where we can improve the car further. As it looks at the moment, I think the second half of the season could be really positive for both me and Elfyn [Evans].â€
Elfyn Evans â€œLooking at the weekend Iâ€™ve had itâ€™s definitely not the way we wanted to debut the new car, but overall the feeling in the team is really good. Itâ€™s clear that we have made a step forward and weâ€™ve also been able to identify a few places where we can improve the car further.
â€œIt might have been a nightmare event for me with very little mileage and the disadvantage of running first on the road today, but we have to look at the positives. Ottâ€™s [TÃ¤nak] shown that thereâ€™s a lot of potential in the car and I feel the same.
â€œThe boys in the workshop put in an unbelievable number of hours to ensure that we had the cars ready in time, and Iâ€™m really sorry for them that I couldnâ€™t help prove how much their hard work paid off. But we look forward to Sardinia where I hope I can repay their efforts with a strong result.â€
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE â€œThereâ€™s no doubt that we have made a clear step forward in terms of performance this weekend. It might not have been reflected in the final result, but the potential is there and the remainder of the season is looking very positive indeed.
â€œThis fifth place is just what Ott [TÃ¤nak] needed and I am extremely pleased for him and Raigo [MÃµlder, co-driver]. They have driven with intelligence, and we certainly havenâ€™t seen all of their pace which is particularly encouraging given the quick times they were able to set. This was a really important result for them and Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll see them challenging for the podium sooner rather than later!
â€œI really feel for Elfyn [Evans], but I know he wonâ€™t dwell on the events of this weekend. Heâ€™ll pick himself up for Sardinia where thereâ€™s potential to see one of his best performances on gravel.
â€œFinally I need to thank our fantastic team once again. There has been a lot of hard work behind the scene and the steps we made this weekend are testament to their dedication and commitment.â€