Evans in the mix in Argentina

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By Olivier Ferret

25 April 2015 - 01:40
Evans in the mix in Argentina

M-Sport World Rally Team’s Elfyn Evans is in the mix for a top position at Rally Argentina. The Welshman currently holds a strong fifth place – less than a minute adrift of the podium positions with two arduous days of rallying left to run.

Evans came to Argentina determined to improve upon his performance this time 12 months ago, and improve he did. Displaying a significant increase in speed, he was on course to secure third place through the first pass of “Agua de Oro / Ascochinga” (SS2) before being held up by an ailing Thierry Neuville.

Caught in the Belgian’s dust for the final 20 kilometres, Evans lost 40 seconds to the leading pack and was relegated to an undeserving eighth place. Quick to recover from the frustrating events of SS2, he and co-driver Daniel Barritt set the third fastest time through the following speed test (SS3) – climbing to fifth position ahead of the midday service break.

As the conditions worsened for the second pass, the Fiesta RS WRC driver continued to show the composure that could see him go far. Focusing on their own event, Evans and Barritt were still able to display their potential. Setting yet another third fastest time on “Villa Bustos /Tanti” stage (SS5), they reigned in fourth-placed man Dani Sordo – the battling duo separated by just 5.5 seconds at the end of the day.

The team feel that Evans’ time loss in SS2 was unfair and will investigate with the organisers to see what can be done.

In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Ott Tänak started the rally as he meant to go on – with a clean and tidy approach that saw him and co-driver Raigo Mõlder net a strong fourth place over the morning loop.

Unfortunately, the tough terrain demanded luck as well as caution. Hitting a rock in the water splash two kilometres from the start of “Agua de Oro / Ascochinga (II)” (SS4), the Estonian damaged the front-left wheel of his Fiesta RS WRC.

Despite their best efforts, the crew were unable to affect a repair and will restart under Rally 2 regulations tomorrow – ruing another water-based misfortune.

Elfyn Evans (5th) said:

“I think we’ve had a good day. We came here wanting to show a vast improvement from this time last year, and I think we have done that. Of course we had some issues in SS2 when we got caught behind Neuville, but I hope that we can get most of that time back.

“We were actually quite lucky at the end of SS3 as we clipped a bank and damaged the steering. The mechanics did a great job as always – replacing the [steering] rack in service to give us another perfect car for the afternoon and we had a clean run with no problems. I had a pretty good start to the long stage [SS4] but I felt the rhythm going towards the end where I hadn’t had chance to check the notes through the morning.

“Other than that I think it’s been a strong day and we are still here which is the main thing on an event like this. Tomorrow will be another tough day, but I’m looking forward to the fight.”

Ott Tänak (23rd) said:

“It looks like I might be the unluckiest driver in the championship at the moment. From a driver point of view I can’t see any way of avoiding what happened to us today. We were in first gear going into a water splash. There was a stone in the water and it ripped the wheel off.

“We have to keep working and try to do as well as we can. Of course it’s really difficult after what has happened, but sometimes life is hard. You just have to pull yourself together and keep pushing. It’s tough sometimes, but you have to do it. You have to do it for yourself, for your team, and for everyone at home who is supporting you all the way.”

Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:

“Elfyn [Evans] has had a really good day. The improvement that he has shown from this year to last is vast and it really shows how far he has come in the space of 12 months. He was unfortunate to lose so much time behind Thierry [Neuville]. If it weren’t for that he would have been much higher in the standings, but I see no reason why he shouldn’t get that time back.

“As for Ott [Tänak], he was having a really steady run with no dramas and good pace which was really working well for him. Unfortunately, he was just a little wide into a water splash on the first stage of the afternoon [SS4] and damaged the suspension.”

ADDITIONAL M-SPORT DRIVERS - PROTASOV REFUSES TO GIVE UP

Yurii Protasov was quite arguably the driver of the day today – displaying the never-give-up attitude that epitomises the FIA World Rally Championship.

Settling a blisteringly quick pace, the Ukrainian had established a comfortable lead in the WRC2 category – winning all three of the opening stages. But after hitting a bank towards the end of SS3, it looked as though his dreams would be dashed – his Ford Fiesta RRC finishing the speed test with one less wheel than it had at the start!

Incredibly, he and co-driver Pavlo Cherepin were still able to set the fastest time by 9.5 seconds! The heroics didn’t end there. Refusing to give up the fight, the Ukrainian ran back into the stage, retrieved his lost wheel and reattaching it to his Fiesta.

Making it back to the service park, the M-Sport technicians did what they do best – rebuilding the Fiesta well within time. Changing the rear differential and the complete rear-right corner including the damper, suspension arm, brake caliper, top mount and rear hub assembly, the Ukrainian was back on the stages for the afternoon loop.

Testament to the incredible speed they had displayed through the opening stages, Protasov and Cherepin held onto third place going into the second loop – despite incurring a three minute and 10 second penalty for late check-in.

Keen to regain the lost time in pursuit of victory, the pairing continued where they had left off this morning. Winning all but one of the stages on offer, they quickly found themselves in a strong second place with just under two minutes standing in the way of regaining their lead.

Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (1st WRC2) said:

“It has been a really tough day, as expected. We had a good plan for the day which was to be as fast as we can whilst still being safe. It’s great to end the day in the lead, but Yurii [Protasov] is pushing really hard. For now I am really happy, and tomorrow we will have time to think about our strategy. It’s a long rally and nothing is finished yet.”

Yurii Protasov (2nd WRC2) said:

“It’s been a crazy day but I have been really happy with our speed and with the way myself and Pavlo [Cherepin, co-driver] have been working together. But of course we had a problem which means that we are not in the position we want to be in!

“It almost felt like we had a puncture which then forced us wide and into the bank where we lost the wheel. But I was determined to keep fighting. I ran back into the stage, got the wheel, and then Pavlo and I fixed it and got it back to service where the mechanics made a much better repair! Now we want to finish this amazing story by taking back the lead. It won’t be so easy, but we will try for sure!”

Nicolas Fuchs (9th WRC2) said:

“It’s been a crazy day with so many issues but I am happy to say that we are here at the end of the day. This morning we broke the steering arm on SS2 and it was so difficult. Then we had two punctures and lost so much time. I think it will be difficult for us to get on the podium now, but this is Argentina, and it’s not over until the end.”

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