WRC A FULL 2014
M-SPORT FIGHT ON IN SWEDEN
7 February 2014
M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen continued to fight for the top positions during today’s gravel-strewn third day of Rally Sweden. The Finn currently holds fourth place with Elfyn Evans breaking into a points-paying position in tenth.
Locked in an intense battle for the podium, Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen made the most of the difficult conditions – keeping their Ford Fiesta RS WRC well clear of the white barriers and setting a string of competitive stage times.
With some of the most challenging conditions in the event’s long and prestigious history, Hirvonen rose to the challenge and is looking well placed ahead of tomorrow’s finale and longest leg – 142.16 kilometres of what could be the most arduous tests of the week.
Less than 20 seconds adrift of the podium, the Finn’s vast experience of these specialist stages could yet come into play and he’ll be sure to muster all of his expertise and commitment for the final push.
Elsewhere, Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt were continuing to gain a wealth of knowledge and experience on their first venture to the snow-covered stages. Growing in confidence, the Welshman continued to improve his times behind the wheel of the Fiesta RS WRC and had the better of his fellow Sweden debutants through a number of tricky speed tests.
Getting to grips with everything from full snow to exposed gravel and ruts, Evans continued to develop his skills as a world class driver. Equalling the time of his more experienced team mate through SS15, the Brit also secured a sixth fastest time and was propelled into a well-deserved points-paying position.
Mikko Hirvonen (4th) said:
“We lost a bit of time catching Robert [Kubica] on SS12. I think we were very unlucky because he managed to get his car on the road literally right in front of me. We must have lost about seven to ten seconds, but these things happen. He stopped on the side of the road after that so I’m sure that it was the same for everyone – everyone will have needed to slow down a bit.
“There was a lot of gravel on the second pass – the roads were almost completely destroyed. Of course there have been some gravel lines in previous years, but I have never seen such deep ruts like this. It’s not perfect conditions and it’s hard on the tyres, but that is just the way it is.
“There is a bit of a gap to Mads [Østberg] now, but I’m not going to let him get away so easily. Tomorrow will be even more tricky than today, and as we’ve already seen, anything can happen. I’ll be there putting the pressure on him, that’s for sure.”
Elfyn Evans (10th) said:
“There is so much gravel on the stages now that you have to really concentrate and think about everything you do. You need to look after the tyres, judge the grip and stay on the line, all whilst driving as quickly as you can – it’s certainly a new experience.
“We tried something a little different through the afternoon stages, but I’m yet to see if that will have any benefit. We’re just taking the time to learn as much as we can and make it to the end of the rally without incident. We’re in a points-paying position now, so if we can hold on to that tomorrow I think it would be a very good result for us.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Mikko [Hirvonen] has put in another solid performance. In fairness, I think we lost a little bit more than we might have liked, but there is still a good distance left to run tomorrow. There’s still a chance to get onto the podium and I’m sure Mikko can put some pressure on the guys in front.
“Elfyn [Evans] too has done exactly what he needed to do today. He’s continued to be sensible, gained good experience and set some really strong sectors given his inexperience of the rally and the conditions. It’s been another solid day for him and it’s great to see his improvement as the day has gone on.”
ADDITIONAL M-SPORT DRIVERS
Ott Tänak continued to impress behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The day was not without its challenges – the Estonian having to control the pace as his new co-driver got up to speed with the power of the Fiesta through the longer, faster stages – but a rejuvenated Tänak controlled the situation perfectly. Despite his pacenote worries, the Estonian continued to challenge the leaders – holding fifth position just 25.7 seconds adrift of the podium.
Having suffered a puncture through yesterday’s final speed test, Henning Solberg was back to his best. Thoroughly enjoying his time back behind the wheel, the Norwegian was propelled up the time sheets – setting the fastest time through the first Hagfors Sprint stage (SS11) and holding seventh position going into the final day.
Pontus Tidemand was also growing in confidence. Keeping his Fiesta RS WRC well clear of trouble in the difficult conditions, the Swede found a more favourable set-up and climbed to a respectable eighth place overall.
Ott Tänak (5th) said:
“Well, this was something new! The stages are mainly gravel now with just a few patches of snow which are quite slippery. It was really difficult to judge where you should look after the tyres and where you should go fast. We took it steady with no big moments, so it was actually quite nice to drive!
“Tomorrow we just need to carry on with the same speed. We’ve done well today, especially in the afternoon, and the work inside the car [with the pacenotes] is improving as well. This morning was quite tricky for us. There are a lot of new things and this is only my co-driver’s second WRC event. We worked hard during service to improve and it was good to see that everything was going in the right direction.
“We had quite a nice fight with Mikko [Hirvonen] and Mads [Østberg] but we weren’t really pushing and I don’t think we have the same objectives as they do for this event. For the moment, we are just looking at our own pace and not taking any unnecessary risks. I just want to drive, get the mileage down and then see what happens.”
Henning Solberg (7th) said:
“I am pushing on every stage but it has been really tricky out there. You have to really concentrate to keep the line and keep the car on the road. The car was a bit too low through SS14 so we took it steady through there, but all in all I think it has been another good day for us. We are still here and still enjoying – that is the main thing.”
Pontus Tidemand (8th) said:
“It took us a little while to get comfortable with the conditions, which are unlike anything I have ever experienced here before. We made some changes to the set-up of the car throughout the day and immediately I felt as though we were driving better. I had more confidence and was able to push a bit more so I am happy with the job we have done today.”
M-Sport Managing Director, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“We’ve been the only ones to set fastest times other than the Volkswagen drivers so that has been very encouraging to see. It’s been 12 months since Henning [Solberg] has done a rally so to come back and do a fastest time is a great confidence boost for him. Ott [Tänak] has also had another very strong day. Considering that this is only his co-driver’s second ever world rally, they’ve both coped with the challenge exceptionally well.”
STEEP LEARNING CURVE AS KUBICA BATTLES ON IN SWEDEN
RK M-Sport World Rally Team’s Robert Kubica and Maciej Szczepaniak continued to build on their knowledge of Rally Sweden’s treacherous stages today. Unfortunately, the snow banks proved less forgiving and they suffered two 10 minute time losses when their Ford Fiesta RS WRC became engulfed in the white barriers.
New stages, new conditions and new challenges were the order of the day, but Kubica took them all in his stride. Getting to grips with the art of winter rallying, the Formula One race winner consistently improved his times throughout the morning to climb into a points-paying position come the midday service break.
Regrettably, his good work was to go unrewarded through the second pass. Drifting wide in the treacherous conditions of both Lesjöfors 2 (SS12) and Rämmen 2 (SS14), his Fiesta fell prey to the snow banks.
Providing another new experience, albeit not an ideal one, the Pole had to twice call upon the assistance of the spectators to dig his Fiesta free.
Determined to the last, no one was going to stand in the way of him improving his skills on snow – not even the snow itself. Making it back to the stages, Kubica is resolute on making his way through all 24 speed tests and will be concentrating on gaining further knowledge and experience during tomorrow’s final day.
Robert Kubica (29th) said:
“It was a good day in terms of learning the stages and improving the times in these difficult conditions, unfortunately we have also been very unlucky. On SS12 we were very unfortunate. Coming over a crest there was a sharp corner and we landed slightly off line, the snow banks are so soft that we got dragged in. It was a new experience more than anything else.
“Then on SS14, I think we were driving really nicely until close to the end. I lost the line, touched another bank, and again got pulled in. I have to thank all the fans because without them I think I would still be there – they have done a great job today!”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Robert [Kubica] has come to Sweden and encountered what are certainly the worst conditions that I have ever seen. Sadly, he’s learnt the hard way that once you hit the soft snow banks they just pull you in. He’s been very unlucky, but he’s also been fortunate that the spectators have been able to get him back on the stage. The important thing is that he is still here and can still benefit from the experience of every stage.”
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