Saturday 18 January 2014

Rally - Ford not out

It was a late finish last night, especially for the service crews and back up teams, as the remote Service Area at Gap had to be dismantled and shipped 242 kms (150 mls) back to Monaco, then rebuilt again for today’s final Leg starting this afternoon, and of course, which features the  classic  and scary 'Col du Turini.'

The star of the show so far, and maybe I’m biased, has been young Elfyn Evans. Showing a maturity and competence that other more established stars could heed, he re-starts today in sixth place with team mate Mikko Hirvonen holding seventh.

It was all about consistency for Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt. Taking a sensible approach given their unfamiliarity of the stages, the British duo regularly posted top-ten times to rival some of their more experienced adversaries. They also managed to finish the day with a wee flourish, fourth fastest time through the final  'Clumanc -Lambruisse' (SS11) test.

For Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen, re-acclimatising themselves with the Fiesta was far from easy. Having no previous experience of M-Sport's up-dated challenger compromised tyre choices often meant that he had a less than favourable set-up for the rain-soaked stages, but the Finn is well aware that the phrase 'to finish highly, first you have to finish' is perhaps best suited to the FIA World Rally Championship's (WRC) traditional opener.

At the end of another action packed day, Elfyn Evans (6th) said: "The last stage [SS11] was good, but overall the day has just been about conserving what we have and making sure we get the car to the end. This is a fantastic opportunity for me and the knowledge we've gained so far is pretty invaluable. I don't think you could experience conditions like this anywhere else, and now we just need to ensure that we make the most of it."

Mikko Hirvonen (7th) added: "It's been tricky. There are so many things about the car and about the set-up that you need to know for Tarmac. Now that I get more mileage, I am started to understand what I need to change to make it more comfortable for me to drive. It's not easy and, driving with a compromised tyre choice all the time, it's tough. We have to be happy that we are here. I think everyone knows that Monte is never over until it's over and there are still some very difficult stages to come tomorrow. We just need to wait and see what happens."

Having fought back from his spin yesterday morning on the ninth test, Bryan Bouffier holds second place just under a minute behind the rally leader and given the nature of the roads, who knows what will happen this afternoon and evening?

A pretty relaxed Bryan Bouffier said: "I am really pleased with the way our rally has gone. Considering the conditions and the spin that we had [on SS9] we have to be happy to still be here in such a strong position. Looking at where we are now, I think it would be interesting to see some snow tomorrow. The [Day 3] stages are very narrow and when you complicate them with an added challenge like that, anything can happen. We have already seen how positions can change. But overall, our target will be to maintain this position – not to do anything stupid, and to get to the end of the rally with a good result."

M-Sport Managing Director, Malcolm Wilson OBE, added: "Bryan [Bouffier] has had another great day. I think it's fair to say that we were maybe a little ambitious with the tyre choice this afternoon as the conditions were a lot worse than we had expected, but there were a lot of moments for a lot of drivers out there. Sadly, Bryan's spin cost him the lead, but he remains in a really strong position. Looking at his times from today, we know what he is capable of. But perhaps more importantly, we all know that anything can happen on 'Col de Turini.' It's certainly all to play for."

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