Progress proved, M-Sport pursue further pace in Portugal
"There was a lot more grip which was a big help"
M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg and Éric Camilli both made progress over the first full day of competition at Rally de Portugal. Currently holding seventh and eighth places, the Ford Fiesta RS WRC pairing will be looking for further gains as the event continues.
Suffering from a persistent downshift issue over the morning loop, Østberg attempted to alter his driving style to suit, but the tactic did not work in his favour and he lost time to the leading pack.
Reverting back to his crowed-pleasing Scandinavian style for the second loop, the higher grip rectified his technical worries and the Norwegian was able to set a string of much more competitive stage times.
With the transmission working well, he and co-driver Ola Fløene now have a good base to build on and will be looking to increase their pace as the weekend goes on – recovering the speed that Østberg and the Ecoboost-powered Fiesta are capable of.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Camilli and co-driver Benjamin Veillas delivered what has been one of their best days behind the wheel of M-Sport’s top-specification Fiesta.
Not forgetting that this is only the tenth gravel rally of the Frenchman’s career, he displayed a vast increase in pace and had the match of his team mate through a number of speed tests – 4.7 seconds faster than the Norwegian through the opening test of the morning (SS2).
Currently just 3.7 seconds adrift of Østberg, Camilli will be hoping to remain in touch now that his team mate’s issues have been rectified.
In the WRC 2 category, Elfyn Evans and the Ford Fiesta R5 Evo were the firm favourites. Unfortunately, the Welshman has been experiencing an unusual drain on the Fiesta’s proven performance – an issue which allowed his rivals to pull into the lead.
With the team looking for nothing short of a victory this weekend, the turbo has been changed in the hope of fully rectifying the problem ahead of the remaining days’ action.
Mads Østberg (7th) said:
“We’ve definitely had more pace this afternoon and the gearbox has been working well which gave us the confidence that we needed to push on. There was a lot more grip which was a big help and I really enjoyed it. I could push a lot more and now we just need to try and regain that confidence so that we can get back up to the pace we know we have.
“It’s difficult to say what we will be able to do tomorrow, but we certainly want to continue this progress. Now that Paddon is gone, we will be second on the road again and the guys we are fighting will be much further back. We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but I’ll push hard and keep fighting.”
Éric Camilli (8th) said:
“It’s been a very good day for us. We have improved a lot and had a lot of confidence with the car. I think that our times have been consistently good, and we have got a lot closer to Mads which was one of our aims. There is now a good little fight between us which is really exciting!
“Of course, the rally is not yet over and we need to ensure that we finish. We are here to take the experience, but we will also try to do our best and fight to improve at all opportunities.”
Elfyn Evans (3rd WRC 2) said:
“We’ve had a bit of struggle today. I’m not getting the usual performance from the car and I think that is clear to see from the times. The team made some changes at lunch time which certainly helped the situation, but we’ve found some more things this evening which should make a difference tomorrow.
“I certainly don’t feel as though I’m driving badly so it’s a surprise to be where we are at the moment. We know what we are capable of and we know what the car is capable of so it’s clear that something isn’t quite right. We know where we should be – we should be out in front – so hopefully we’ll have a bit more luck tomorrow!”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“It’s been an eventful day for us. Mads continued to have some troubles with the downshift, but it was much better over the second pass and he was able to set a string of times that were much closer to what we would expect. Hopefully this will give him a good base to build on and he can continue in the same direction tomorrow.
“Eric has had a great day. He had three objectives for this weekend – to finish all of the stages, to up his pace and to get closer to Mads. So far, he has achieved all three. It’s easy to forget that this is only the tenth gravel rally of his career and I have to say that I have been very pleased with his progress so far.
“Elfyn has had some issues. We all know the pace of him and the pace of the Fiesta R5 Evo, and we’ve not seen it so far this weekend. We made some progress this afternoon, but it’s clear that it’s still not perfect so we’ve changed the turbo this evening and hopefully that will get us back on track. We came here for the win, and if the changes work then that is still our goal.
“Finally, I have to mention Ott Tänak. His pace behind the wheel of the Fiesta was fantastic. He’s proved what we all knew – that the Fiesta is still a very competitive package. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to continue to show that this weekend as the car was too badly damaged during the SS5 dramas. Thankfully, Ott’s father is a fire-fighter and he seems to have learnt a few tricks of the trade! Thanks to his quick thinking, he saved the car which was vitally important for us as a team. Big thanks to both Ott and Raigo [Mõlder] for their ingenuity. Without them, the car would have been gone!”
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