VILLA CARLOS PAZ, Argentina - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Sébastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen will be back in action when the FIA World Rally Championship returns this week – their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs ready to tackle the gravel stages of Rally Argentina.
Making a full recovery from the mild concussion suffered at Rally Mexico, co-driver Daniel Barritt is making a welcome return to the squad – the Lancastrian’s distinctive accent calling the notes for Evans once more.
With the Brits missing out on victory by a mere 0.7 seconds last year – and all three Fiestas finishing in the overall top-four – the team have proven performance in Argentina and are confident of securing another strong result this year.
With testing on location prohibited for long-haul events, M-Sport Ford used their time wisely – focusing their efforts on a comprehensive development test in Portugal and targeting another improved performance on gravel.
With the Fiesta winning three of the four events contested so far, the Cumbrians are also in with a chance of securing an impressive statistic.
The new-generation world rally cars have contested 17 events since launching last year, and the Fiesta has claimed eight victories – claim the top step of the podium again this week, and the Blue Oval will be able to hold 50 percent of the available wins to its badge.
Rally Argentina delivers action and atmosphere in abundance – the country’s passion for motorsport making the event a special fixture on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar.
Based in the lakeside resort of Carlos Villa Paz, the Argentine event provides some of the year’s most demanding gravel stages with a route that delivers a vast variation of challenging terrain.
From the soft, sandy roads in the Calamuchita Valley, to the rocky, narrow tracks through the Traslasierra mountains, the crews must master each change in rhythm.
The contrasting characteristics demand quick thinking and an ability to adapt driving styles whilst traversing the pampas plains, rugged mountains and moonlike vistas that the event has become famed for.
Rally-ending rocks line the stages and the early autumn weather means that the crews will often have to battle the elements as well as the stopwatch.
Thunderstorms and fog are not uncommon and those with the most confidence in their pacenotes will often prosper though the challenging conditions.
Make no mistake, a victory in Argentina will be hard fought by whoever comes out on top, and admired by all who fall short of the mark.
Not since 2002 has Malcolm Wilson’s team secured victory at Rally Argentina. Having claimed three out of the four wins on offer so far this year, the Ford Fiesta WRC is looking stronger than ever and Wilson is keen to see his team prosper on Argentine soil once more.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“It’s been a long time since we’ve secured a win in Argentina, and that’s something we’d all love to achieve this week. We’ve had a fantastic start to the season, but we know how strong the competition is and the whole team is working hard to ensure another strong result – something all three of our drivers are capable of delivering.
“This remains the only event that Sébastien and Julien are yet to win. They want to add this accolade to their long list of achievements and, knowing the form that they’re in at the moment; they’re in with a chance of doing it. They won’t have an easy run opening the road on Friday, but they can never be discounted – even when the odds are stacked against them.
“It’s great to see Dan fully recovered and reunited with Elfyn on an event they came so close to winning last year. They both really enjoy this event and have gone extremely well here in the past. They’re in need of a strong result to kick-start their championship campaign, and I’m confident they can do that.
“Teemu too is in with a chance. This is his first time in Argentina so he will have a lot to learn, but we know how quickly he does that. This is an event of attrition and a clever drive can so often deliver results – something Teemu and Mikko are more than capable of this week.”
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia may have secured 43 victories in their prestigious FIA World Rally Championship careers, but a win in Argentina has thus far eluded the five-time World Champions.
The Frenchmen have secured four podiums at the Argentine event, and will be keen for a fifth this week as they do battle for an elusive maiden victory on South American soil.
Having won three of the first four events this year, Ogier and Ingrassia hold a 17 point lead at the head of the championship – a fine position to be in but one which places them at a disadvantage sweeping a clean line through the loose gravel on the opening day of competition.
Previous starts: 8
Best result: 2nd (2013, 2014 and 2016)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“We’ve made a great start to the season and come to Argentina with the ambition of continuing this positive start. It’s the only event Julien and I are yet to win and, even though I won’t be fixated on a win this week, I would also love to stand on the top step of the podium in Argentina!
“We know that the win won’t be easy, but we have made a lot of progress this year and will certainly give it our best. The competition is strong, but if we can limit the time loss on Friday, which will be the key, I’m sure we’ll be in with a chance.
“The car felt great last time out on gravel, but the surface in Argentina is completely different. The roads are much softer and sandier here, but also quite rough in places meaning that a good result is dependent on a compromise between speed and endurance.
“We completed a development test in Portugal last week and everything continues to go in the right direction. We’re keen to see what we can do next week, and optimistic of delivering another strong result.”
Rally Argentina holds special memories for Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt who will be reunited this week – Barritt making a full recovery from the mild concussion suffered in a sixth-gear roll at Rally Mexico.
The Argentine event played host to the pairing’s maiden podium in 2015, and came close to hosting their maiden victory last year – missing out on the win by 0.7 seconds before securing the feat six months later in Wales.
The Brits haven’t had the best of luck so far this year, but that puts them in a favourable road position in Argentina where they will be keen to challenge for a top result.
Previous starts: 4
Best result: 2nd (2017)
Elfyn Evans said:
“It’s great to see Dan fully recovered and back at an event that holds a lot of special memories for the both of us. It’s where we secured our first podium in 2015, and where we came so close to victory last year. That was a hard defeat to take at the time, but it made us stronger and we’ll be hoping to challenge for the top results again this year.
“It’s fair to say that I’ve not had the best start to the season, but we’re determined to turn that around this week. With a solid result in Corsica, and Dan back by my side in Argentina, we’re looking forward to the challenge and focused on delivering a strong result.
“You have to take a fairly measured approach to an event like this as there is very little margin for error. There’s the potential for something to catch you out around practically every corner – so you have to have a clean rally and keep mistakes to a minimum.
“We completed some development testing in the lead-up to this event where we were able to get a feel for driving on gravel again. We will have a fairly good road position for the opening day and the car feels good – so let’s see what we can do.”
Teemu Suninen and Mikko Markkula may have missed the previous outing in Corsica, but the pairing will be back behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta WRC at this week’s Rally Argentina.
Making his debut at the event, Suninen will have much to learn but will be in good hands with the experienced Markkula calling the notes.
Having secured a fourth place finish at the event in 2014, Markkula knows what it takes to deliver in Argentina and will be on hand to help his young charge show his speed and potential through the unfamiliar terrain.
Teemu Suninen said:
“Argentina will be an interesting event in that sense that I have not competed here before. We did the recce in 2016 and from what I can remember there are quite a few rhythm changes on the stages – high-speed roads often turning into very narrow tracks with no room to run wide.
“The rhythm change is the biggest challenge, but the roads are also soft in places and the risk of punctures is increased by small stones bordering the road.
“We completed a development test in Portugal and got some good kilometres under our belt on gravel. It was really important to have that test. We have trust in the car but I know that the conditions will be a little different in Argentina.
“My aim this week is to continue to learn, continue to gain experience and continue developing my driving. If we can do that, the good results will come too.”