SARDINIA, Italy - Fortune’s wheel is forever turning, and that was certainly the case for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs at Rally Italia Sardegna on Saturday.
Having taken an early lead through yesterday’s stages, Teemu Suninen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen had their sights firmly set on a second podium of the year.
But whilst holding second position, the Finns developed an issue with the handbrake and were unable to precisely manoeuvre the tight hairpins through the morning stages.
Dropping time to the championship contenders, Suninen fell from second to fifth and ends the day 8.5 seconds shy of the championship leader in the overall standings.
Gus Greensmith and Elliott Edmondson had also been delivering their best-ever performance behind the wheel of the top-specification Fiesta.
Regularly outperforming the championship contenders, the pairing were hoping for more of the same today before an impact with a huge rock on the line resulted in an issue with the alternator belt – quite literally putting paid to their charge.
The Brits successfully changed the belt on the liaison to the final stage of the morning, but with no charge and no way of jump-starting their Fiesta, their day came to a frustrating end.
Elsewhere in the WRC 2 category, Adrien Fourmaux and Renaud Jamoul were hunting down the rally lead before their day also came to a disappointing end.
Taking time out of their rival on both of the opening stages, the Franco-Belgian pairing had reduced a 31.9 second deficit to just 18.2 seconds.
Embarking on the third stage of the day, they looked set to half the deficit once more before front-suspension damage put them out of contention. With damage to the rollcage, their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 will not restart tomorrow.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“After the highs of yesterday, it’s fair to say that we’ve experienced some lows today. Teemu lost quite a lot of time and positions with a handbrake issue this morning, but he’s not too far away from Elfyn and we have some tricky stages coming up tomorrow. We need to keep the pressure on and I know Teemu will give it his best.
“Gus was also delivering a really solid performance and the progress he’s made over the past couple of weeks is really impressive – so it was a big shame about what happened today. It looks as though a stone has taken the alternator belt. He was able to fix it on the road section, but with no charge and a flat piece of road he had no hope of getting going again.
“In WRC 2 Adrien was also delivering a really great drive. He pretty much halved the gap to the lead in two stages and was on course to half it again when he got caught out in a cut and damaged the suspension. It’s easy to forgot how little experience he had on this surface, and the pace is there which is the most important thing at this point in his career.”
Teemu Suninen (5th) said:
“It’s been a challenging day for us. It started okay this morning – we lost a few seconds to the guys at the front but we were on good pace with Elfyn. Then we had some issues with the handbrake and lost a lot of time in the slower sections.
“But we came back again in the afternoon – taking time out of Elfyn on the first stage [SS11] and then losing a bit to him on the second [SS12]. It’s going to be a tight fight tomorrow, and I will give it my best. It’s only two seconds per stage, and we will keep the pressure on.”
Gus Greensmith (29th) said:
“It was one of the best days of my career yesterday. I was really pleased with the way I was driving and really pleased with the car – everything was working well. It started okay again this morning – maybe my paceotes were a little bit slow and the second spare wasn’t the best choice, but we seemed to make it work.
“Unfortunately we then had a low voltage warning on SS9 and as soon as we left the stop line the whole car died – right in the bottom of a dip! So even though we managed to change the alternator belt, we could never get enough momentum to bump start it. After about 45 minutes of trying we had to call it a day, and tomorrow we’ll just focus on continuing the improvements we have made so far.”
Adrien Fourmaux (DNF) said:
“I was trying to get back to the lead and made a small mistake in one of the cuts. There was a small compression that pushed me out of the line – then in the next corner, I hit a rock on the inside with the wheel open and broke the suspension.
“It’s not how we wanted to finish the weekend, but still I am happy with our pace. It is always a very difficult rally here in Sardinia and we had good speed on all of the stages. And of course I need to remember that this is only my 13th rally in WRC – which is not such a lucky number!”
On Sunday, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Teemu Suninen and Jarmo Lehtinen brought their EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC home in fifth place at this weekend’s Rally Italia Sardegna – the final gravel event of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.
Getting off to the perfect start, Suninen claimed an early lead on Friday morning and was a full second a kilometre quicker than anyone else through the opening speed test. Despite losing some aerodynamic aids and opting for a less advantageous tyre choice through the second pass, he maintained good pace and ended the day in a strong second place.
Embarking on the weekend stages, the Flying Finn had his sights firmly set on a second podium of the year – adding to the third place he secured at Rally Mexico back in March. But luck wasn’t to be on his side and an issue with the handbrake on Saturday morning prevented a maximum attack – relegating him from second to fifth in the process.
Consolidating his fifth position through today’s closing stages, Suninen should take comfort from the flashes of brilliance shown this weekend and will be looking to prove his potential once again when the championship turns to asphalt for the final two rounds of the season.
Delivering their best performance behind the wheel of the top-specification Fiesta, Gus Greensmith and Elliott Edmondson outperformed the championship contenders through a number of stages on Friday, but their charge was quite literally halted on Saturday.
Following an unlucky impact with a rock on the line, the pairing developed an electrical issue – losing charge through the stage and coming to a halt in a dip after the stop line. Putting their mechanical skills to the test, the youngsters were able to replace the alternator belt, but with no charge and no way of restarting their Fiesta their day came to a frustrating end.
Returning to action today, the duo continued to put all they have learnt into practice and will be looking to show further improvements when the FIA World Rally Championship turns to asphalt next month.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“The event couldn’t have got off to a better start, and that time from Teemu was the boost everyone needed. In the right conditions, we’re as competitive as we’ve ever been and that is a big positive for the team right now.
“Teemu should also take a lot of confidence from his performance on that first day. We still have some work to do on the consistency, but the pace is there and that’s something that you can’t teach. We were hoping for a bit more of a fight today, but the championship contenders were pushing so hard and in the end it was just a case of consolidating the position.
“Gus should also be really proud of his performance this weekend – and I would say his best ever drive in a world rally car. He was right there through Friday’s stages and on course for another really strong result before that unlucky impact. Still, I think he really enjoyed this weekend and the improvement is clear to see.”
Teemu Suninen (5th) said:
“We started this rally really strongly and had great speed in the slower sections – proving that we can be competitive when the conditions are right. But we also had some small issues and were struggling a bit in the faster sections – meaning that fifth was the best we could do this weekend. Still there are a lot of positives that we can take away, and we’ll focus now on the Tarmac rallies where the Fiesta has always been strong.”
Gus Greensmith (25th) said:
“I think we made some really good steps forward this weekend, and a lot of that was due to the time I spent at M-Sport before the rally. Going through all of the data with my engineer we were able to find a lot of ways to improve and also tried something new with the set-up which gave me a lot more confidence. For me it was definitely one of my better performances. It was pretty disappointing about some of the issues we had, but that’s rallying and we’ve shown that we can fight a lot closer to the top.”