At the dawn of a new era for the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), M-Sport are ready and raring to go – the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC making its competitive debut at this week’s legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Having completed precisely 8,344 kilometres of testing across seven European countries, the wait is over. With Sébastien Ogier and Ott Tänak behind the wheel, it’s time to see if the hard work has paid off.
RALLYE MONTE-CARLO: AN ICONIC CHALLENGE
The competitive debut of any new car brings a great sense of anticipation, but when that debut comes at one of the most challenging and prestigious events on the calendar, the pressure is on.
Rallye Monte-Carlo has gained iconic status, and it is easy to see why. As one of the most unpredictable events in motorsport, the crews will need to muster all of their talent, poise and experience alongside a little bit of luck.
The Fiesta WRCs are prepared in their asphalt specification, but this is so much more than an asphalt rally.
Frequently changing weather conditions mean that the teams can experience dry, wet, icy and snowy conditions through a single stage. Tyre strategy can make all the difference, and it is often a case of finding the best compromise over a stretch of road where there is no definitively clear choice.
A clear head and a natural ability to read the road are the only secrets to success, and a victory at Rallye Monte-Carlo carries great weight and respect.
MALCOLM WILSON: THE TEAM PRINCIPAL
A tremendous amount of time and effort has gone into the creation of the Ford Fiesta WRC, and Malcolm Wilson was quick to recognise the dedication of his team.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE :
“It’s just around the corner – the dawn of a new era and a chance to see if all the hard work has paid off. The dedication that our team has put into this car is beyond measure. I have to say that it is a very proud moment for me, and that pride is focused on every single member of the team who have worked day and night to ensure we reached this point.
“We feel that we have produced another fantastic car, but no one really knows what will happen until all the teams meet for the first time in competition. You can feel the anticipation, and rightly so. This is going to be a spectacular year of rallying, and we find ourselves with the strongest driver line-up that we have had in years.
“You always want more time, but in our case that is especially true. Sébastien is a class-act, but with so little seat time in the Fiesta we have to admit that he will be starting at a disadvantage. That said, if anyone can succeed when the odds are stacked against them, it’s Sébastien Ogier.
“Then we have Ott Tänak – a man who I have rarely seen so determined and excited about the start of a new season. There’s no doubting it, Ott is ready for 2017, and I firmly believe that we will see some special performances from him this year.
“It’s also great to see Elfyn Evans back behind the wheel of a world rally car as our third nominated driver, and to see Éric Camilli focused on continuing his progression with the Ford Fiesta R5.
“Rallye Monte-Carlo will be very special indeed, and we’re ready to face the challenges head-on. It won’t be easy, but believe me when I say that this small but passionate team is more determined than ever – with the number one on the side of the Ford Fiesta WRC.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA: THE FOUR-TIME WORLD CHAMPIONS
Having secured three back-to-back victories at Rallye Monte-Carlo, respect is something that four-time World Champions Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia have in abundance.
This year however, the Frenchmen will be starting at something of a disadvantage. With limited seat time in the Ford Fiesta WRC, the pairing will have no choice but to learn on the job.
But despite not being a firm favourite for victory this weekend, the World Champion should never be discounted when it comes to securing a strong result in the most difficult of circumstances.
Previous starts: 5
Best result: 1st (2016, 2015 and 2014)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“It’s a new season in every sense of the word – a new era, a new car and a new team. We all know that experience is an important factor in rallying and it would have been nice to have had more time with the team, but we have learnt a lot over the past month.
“Over the years, I have learnt to be pragmatic in my approach and to focus on the job in hand. That is exactly what we plan to do next week. We’ve not had a lot of preparation, but we go to this first event determined to do our best.
“We had two days of testing in typical Monte conditions last week and we all know the secret to doing well at this event – it’s all about making the right tyre choice, anticipating the conditions and judging the grip levels. If we can do all of that whilst continuing to grow as a team then I think we could be in a good position.
“I’ve had a lot of success at Rallye Monte-Carlo, but I never fail to feel humbled in the face of such a historic and challenging event. It is an event like no other, and if you do well there then you know that you have delivered your best.”
TÄNAK AND JÄRVEOJA: A DETERMINED NEW PARTNERSHIP
Teaming up alongside new co-driver Martin Järveoja, Ott Tänak is more determined than ever. Having completed the bulk of the pre-season testing, the Estonian is ready for the challenges ahead and keen to take the next step in his career.
Rallye Monte-Carlo may not have been overly kind to Tänak in the past, but he’ll be looking to right those wrongs with a personal best at this notoriously difficult event this weekend.
Speed is not an issue for Tänak. Running as high as second overall in 2015 he knows what the mountain roads demand. With more experience under his belt, Tänak is ready to face the challenges head-on – putting the whole package together in search of a strong result.
Previous starts: 3
Best result: 7th (2016)
Ott Tänak said:
“I can’t wait to start this season. There are a lot of new things happening and it’s a whole new challenge – I’m sure that it’s going to be interesting.
“So much hard work has gone on behind the scenes to get to this point. The work that the whole team has put into this car is incredible and there’s a real sense of excitement. It’s all new, and no one will really know where they stand until we get out there on the stages.
“The feeling is good, but we start with what is one of the most difficult rallies on the calendar – Rallye Monte-Carlo. It’s such a challenging event but actually the trick to doing well there is quite simple.
“Firstly, you need the experience from previously years. Secondly, you need to be consistent over all of the conditions. You need to avoid mistakes, make good tyre choices, and find a good set-up. If you can put that whole package together then you know you are going to have a strong event.
“The aim for this season is to be consistently strong. We’ve got quite a lot of experience now and we want to be scoring strong results, regularly. I’m so excited to chase my goals for this season, and there is not long to wait now!”
ELSEWHERE: IN THE M-SPORT TEAM
Elsewhere in the team, Éric Camilli and Benjamin Veillas continue their development behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R5 in the championship’s principal support series – WRC 2.
The Frenchman will use this season to gain valuable experience away from the spotlight. Hailing from Nice, Camilli has home advantage on side and will be a strong contender for the WRC 2 podium this weekend.
Éric Camilli said:
“This is an important challenge for me and I am looking forward to it. The target will be to continue our learning because experience is particularly important when you find yourself in a championship where the level is so high.
“The competition will be really tough this weekend, but it also provides an opportunity for us to show our speed and potential as we go head-to-head with the likes of Andreas Mikkelsen and Bryan Bouffier. We are ready to give our best.”
ELSEWHERE: IN THE SERVICE PARK
Elsewhere in the Service Park, Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt have been nominated as M-Sport’s third designated point-scorers.
Piloting a DMACK-clad Ford Fiesta WRC, Evans makes a welcome return to the top flight and is the quintessential dark horse for this year’s Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Possessing a natural ability to read the available grip levels in tricky conditions, the Welshman could well spring a surprise or two.
Bryan Bouffier will pilot a Ford Fiesta R5 in the WRC 2 category. The Frenchmen led much of Rallye Monte-Carlo in 2014, before bringing his Ford Fiesta RS WRC home in a fine second place overall.
Other notable names to join Camilli and Bouffier behind the wheel of a Fiesta R5 in the WRC 2 category include last year’s Italian Rally Champion Giandomenico Basso, and J-WRC graduate Andrea Crugnola.