M-Sport poised to prove potential in Poland
M-Sport World Rally Team’s Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak will be looking for a confidence-building result at next week’s Rally Poland. The Polish fixture marks the midway point in this year’s FIA World Rally Championship and M-Sport’s young charges are keen to prove their true potential.
Based in the Masurian town of Mikolajki, next week’s event offers a change of tempo as the rough, technical stages of late make way for flat-out speed tests in which the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRCs are let loose.
The speed should not come as a shock to the M-Sport duo as they spent a week on the Italian mainland after Rally Italia Sardinia, albeit for an extensive Tarmac test.
The research and development test was primarily to perfect the new Fiesta RS WRC ahead of the coming asphalt rounds, but the increased pace associated with sealed-surface rallying will not have hindered the duo ahead of the Polish gravel where getting accustomed to high speeds is a key factor.
High speeds are undoubtedly the order of the rally, but there is more to this event than an assertive display of pace. A trouble-free rally won’t necessarily guarantee a strong result, but finding the balance between being fast, and being intelligent is essential – especially on Friday when the crews will need to navigate 155 competitive kilometres without the luxury of a midday service.
This year’s route is highly revised with almost 90 percent of the stages differing from last year’s offering, but the nature and character of the event remains largely unchanged.
Soft gravel roads are lined with high grasses that limit visibility and conceal a multitude of car-breaking obstacles. Rein in your speed and you risk being left behind, but plough flat-out into the unknown and you risk bringing your rally to a premature end.
A thorough reconnaissance and precise pacenotes are vital. Couple that with the confidence to conquer the high speeds and the intelligence to know when compromise is required and you could be on course for a strong result.
One crew who have started to perfect this balance is Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt. With a full year in the Fiesta RS WRC, the Brits know which stages demand their respect. The pairing were caught out by the Polish terrain last year, and they’ll be keen to learn from that this time around.
After a disappointing result in Portugal, Evans has had to rebuild his confidence. As one of the most consistent drivers in the championship, Portugal hurt the young Welshman and he’ll be determined to make amends next week. Continuously building his speed, Evans will be looking for a confidence-building result that will see him well placed ahead of his more favoured events.
But before the adrenaline-fuelled stages of Rally Poland, the Welshman will experience some adrenaline of a different kind as he makes an appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The youngster will spend his Saturday taking in all things motorsport as he visits some of M-Sport’s valued partners – Ford, Michelin, Goodridge, NGK and HIAB – as well as catching up with some fellow M-Sport supported drivers such as Ken Block.
Just as there is no doubting Evans’ diligent approach, there is no doubting his team mate’s speed. Tänak is renowned for his love of flat-out speed tests and the Polish stages suit him down to the ground. He and co-driver Raigo Mõlder proved that with a dominant WRC 2 victory behind the wheel of their Ford Fiesta R5 last year and they’ll be looking for a strong result as they take to the Fiesta RS WRC next week.
The Estonians’ season has been marred by misfortune so far, but they’ll be keen to put an end to that in Poland. As the 11th car on the road, the conditions could go either way for the duo but they won’t let that dampen their spirits as they look to prove their potential.
Fully aware of the possible advantages and disadvantages he’ll face in Poland, Tänak has just one goal in mind – showcasing his speed and preparing himself for a comeback in the second half of the season.
Elfyn Evans said:
"This is a really fast event which will be a bit of a shock to the system after a series of relatively slow rallies, but I’m certainly looking forward to another new challenge. It’s always a challenge getting back into the flow of high-speed rallying and there are so many new stages to contend with this year.
"I think a lot will come down to the character and the nature of the stages themselves. Last year we saw something of an ebb and flow in terms of road position. Some stages saw a lot of cleaning, whereas others cut-up and become slower. We’ll have to wait and see how it is this year but either way we are in the middle of the pack. We won’t get the optimum advantage from road cleaning, but we shouldn’t be disadvantaged too much should the stages deteriorate.
"I think there have been some real positives over the past couple of rallies, but for various reasons some of the results haven’t quite been what we wanted. We need to refocus and concentrate on the positives. I really want to enjoy this one, and hopefully everything will come together for us."
Ott Tänak said:
"From this point in the season we’ll experience much more smooth and flowing stages – real driver stages and Rally Poland is a real drivers’ event. I’ve always enjoyed fast stages and even though we haven’t experienced stages like this for a while, I hope that we can have a good run and really push to the maximum from the very first kilometre.
"As the speeds are so high you need to have very precise notes that you are 100 percent confident in. Any mistakes and they are very hard to correct. Any hesitation and you’ll lose speed and time.
"We’ll be the 11th car on the road so we’ll just have to wait and see if that is an advantage or a disadvantage. A lot will depend on the weather and the conditions on the week of the rally. The stages are quite soft, but I think it should be quite even for the second pass so hopefully that won’t hinder us too much. Whatever the conditions, we just have to make the best of it.
"My target is to improve rally by rally. Since launching the new car in Portugal I’ve been able to feel everything getting better so we need to focus on keeping that confidence. We need to keep it on the road, enjoy the driving and continue to improve step by step until we’re where we ultimately want to be."
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