M-Sport trio ready to tackle Portuguese tests

"Portugal is a really nice rally"


By Franck Drui

24 March 2012 - 10:05
M-Sport trio ready to tackle Portuguese

Old faces return to the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team as the leading privateers embark upon the fourth and first European gravel event of the World Rally Championship (WRC) next week. Having made an impact on the first three events of the season, regular points scorers Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tänak will be looking for another strong result as Dutchman Dennis Kuipers joins the squad for his first outing of the season at the 2012 edition of the Vodafone Rally de Portugal.

Returning to the world series, Rally de Portugal is a classic and popular fixture on the WRC calendar. With its mix of open roads, hidden crests and narrow twisting sections, the rally is one of the most technically challenging of the year. Famed for its abrasive nature, the onus is on tyre wear and tyre choice will play a pivotal role as M-Sport’s youngsters push for another strong result.

Revisiting the popular Super Special at the Praça do Império, Rally de Portugal kicks off in Lisbon city-centre before the crews tackle three back-to-back night stages on their return to the rally’s base in the Algave. Two loops of three stages follow on Friday as the rally returns to the Tavira municipality for the first time since 2007 before returning to last year’s format for the remaining two days.

Continuing his assault on the WRC, Novikov will be looking to maintain what has already been an impressive season for the young Russian after securing two successive fifth place finishes on the opening rounds of the championship. Despite failing to score on the previous round in Mexico, Novikov holds sixth place in the Drivers’ standings and will be eager to consolidate his position as one of the Championship’s most exciting young talents as the series continues next week.

Novikov last contested Rally de Portugal in 2009. Having to devise brand new pacenotes for this year’s edition, the event will see Novikov and experienced co-driver Denis Giraudet further strengthen their successful partnership. Ever rising to the challenge, the Muscovite will be out to impress behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.

Following an impressive showing of speed and maturity at Rally Guanajuato Mexico earlier this month, Tänak will be keen to display much of the same as the Championship returns to Europe. Joined by regular co-driver, Kuldar Sikk, this will be the pairings first outing on the Portuguese stages and Tänak’s first venture since 2009.

Tänak will attend the inaugural WRC Fafe Rally Sprint as a precursor to Portugal’s round of the WRC on Saturday. Based near the city of Porto, the event is designed to show-case the best of the WRC for fans in the north of the country. Competing alongside the likes of Ford factory drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg, the Estonian will be hoping the extra time behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC gives him an edge as battles Dani Sordo for seventh in the Drivers’ standings.

Making a welcome return to the WRC, Kuipers will be looking to make it into the points as he revisits the Ford Fiesta RS WRC for the first time since November last year. With a strong finish to his 2011 campaign, the Dutchman recorded the best ever result for a Dutch driver in the WRC when he secured fifth place overall at Rallye de France Alsace followed by two top-ten finishes in Spain and GB.

Fresh from victory at the Tank S Rally in his native Holland, Kuipers will be keen to make an impact as he returns to the Algarve for his third assault on the Portuguese stages. With new-for-2012 co-driver Robin Buysmans in the navigator’s seat, the duo will be looking for a good result on their debut event together in the world series.

Evgeny Novikov said:

“I have only competed in Portugal once before [in 2009] and this will be my first outing alongside Denis [Giraudet]. We’ll have to make brand new pacenotes for this event so we’ll be working hard throughout the recce to make sure they are as good as they can be.

“Having said that, I am really looking forward to the rally. For sure it is quite a difficult event with lots of twists and crests, but it is also really good fun. It is difficult to say what position we will be aiming for. We will have to see what our pace is like and if we can find the right set-up in the car, but of course I will try my hardest to secure the very best result.”

Ott Tänak said:

“I’m feeling pretty good ahead of Portugal. We had a really good rally in Mexico so I’m hoping we continue that good form next week. As we have had no pre-event testing we’ll take the same approach as we did in Mexico – take it a little cautiously at first to get the feel of the car and then push a little more if the feeling is good.

“We will be attending the Rally Sprint event on Saturday which should give us some good experience, but more importantly, some extra time in the car ahead of the event. We’ll do our best and hopefully we can have a perfect rally. For sure, we’ll be looking for another strong points finish.”

Dennis Kuipers said:

“Portugal is a really nice rally. This will be my third time at the event now so I know it quite well and I’m certainly looking forward to it. It is a technical rally which means it is often pretty challenging. The night stages on the first day make the rally even longer than usual and it will be a real test for the drivers.

“I’ve been watching some In Car footage from the stages, but we have had no specific testing in the lead up to the event. This will be my first time back in a WRC car since November last year so it will be difficult to be straight on the pace we were showing at the end of last year.

“I contested a small rally in Holland last week [Tank S Rally] to get back into the rhythm of competitive driving. We won the event so hopefully that will have been good practice for next week. Of course it is difficult to judge where our pace will be when we return to the WRC, but for sure we will try our best and hopefully we can benefit from our past experience and make it into the top ten.”


Motorsport news