[T]he M-Sport World Rally Team will be ready to rally when the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) returns for the fourth round of the season at this week’s Rally Argentina.
Based in the lakeside resort of Carlos Villa Paz, the event provides one of the most demanding routes of the year and incorporates a vast variation of challenging terrain.
From the soft, sandy stages of the Santa Rosa de Calamuchita Valley to the rocky, narrow tracks of the Traslasierra mountains, Rally Argentina offers it all and this year’s route will also include sections from the world-famous Dakar Rally.
Encountering some of the roughest terrain of the year, M-Sport will have the strength and reliability of the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRCs on their side, but the crews will also have to be extra vigilant as they traverse the rock-strewn stages.
Following the six-week break, Mads Østberg and Éric Camilli conducted a two-day pre-event test at M-Sport’s private testing facility at Greystoke forest – getting some valuable seat time ahead of the event in conditions somewhat similar to those expected this week.
In addition to this, Østberg and co-driver Ola Fløene were also in action at the opening round of the FIA European Rally Championship – setting the pace behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R5 at last month’s Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés.
Back in the WRC, Østberg has good form in Argentina. He finished second at the event last year and was also on the podium when he piloted a Fiesta RS WRC in 2012. Currently sitting second in the championship, the Norwegian’s exceptional consistency will fair him well but he will also want to show the speed he is capable of by challenging for the top positions.
For Camilli, Argentina marks the last in a string of new events for the Frenchman but he won’t be going completely into the unknown having completed the pre-event reconnaissance last year.
He and co-driver Benjamin Veillas spent much of last week at M-Sport’s state-of-the-art facility in Cumbria – learning the mechanics of their Fiesta RS WRC to be as prepared as possible for the challenges ahead.
This week will also see Welshmen Elfyn Evans and Craig Parry continue their WRC 2 campaign as they chase a third successive victory in the WRC’s principal support series.
Having secured a podium finish when he piloted M-Sport’s top-specification Fiesta at the event last year, Evans has good knowledge of the Argentine fixture and will be looking to translate that into a dominant performance behind the wheel of the Fiesta R5 Evo.
In addition to the three official M-Sport drivers, M-Sport will also run three Fiesta RS WRCs for Ott Tänak, Lorenzo Bertelli and Henning Solberg.
Mads Østberg said: “Sometimes it can be nice to recharge the batteries, but now I cannot wait to get back behind the wheel in competition. Rally Argentina is such a vibrant event and the fans there have such a passion for motorsport so that will be a really welcome return!
“Argentina has a real variation of stages. There are some incredibly fast, sandy roads but there are also some twistier, more technical sections and it’s important to have the right set-up for each type of stage. I was really pleased with the set-up of the Fiesta in Mexico, so hopefully we can build on that this week.
“We’ve had a string of strong results over the opening three events and I want to continue that. At the same time however, I always want to be challenging for the top positions. We have more speed to give and we want to show that in Argentina.”
Éric Camilli said: “It’s been a long break so I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel. This will be another new event for us, but we actually did the recce last year so I have some knowledge of what to expect. Argentina is also an amazing country and everyone there has a big passion for the sport so I am really excited to be going back.
“I think the event will be a lot like Mexico. Some of the stages are very fast but others are quite narrow and technical and the route can also be quite rough. There is a lot of variation so it is important to have the right set-up for each stage.
“Myself and Benjamin have worked really hard over the break so that we can be as prepared as possible going forward. I feel as though we understand the nature of the WRC events a bit more now – about the rhythm that we need to take and the level that is required to do well – and that should hopefully be a benefit to us.
“Our target will be to maintain a good rhythm through all of the stages, avoid the traps and make it to the finish.”
Elfyn Evans said: “This is a busy month of rallying for us, but I was really pleased to hear that we would be heading back to Argentina. It’s a really tough event, but it’s one that I enjoy and I have some good memories from there… plus they also have some pretty amazing steaks!
“From the last two years, we know that this is a very difficult event. Getting through unscathed is often a challenge in itself, but we know that the Fiesta is a very strong car. Unlike the other two events, this one won’t necessarily be about outright pace, but our goal is still the same and we’ll be going there with the aim of securing the victory.
“There will be a fair mix of stages this year. The route is venturing further south where the roads are quite sandy and incredibly fast. But on Sunday we’ll also have some very technical stages with some tight and twisty sections through Mina Clavero and El Condor. Those stages are also likely to be the roughest that we’ll encounter so it certainly won’t be over until it’s over!”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “Unfortunately I won’t be travelling to Argentina myself, but I’ll certainly be keeping a watchful eye on how everything is progressing. This is the first event that I’ve ever missed, but I’ll be analysing all of the stage times and sending through my comments as usual.
“Argentina is a notoriously difficult event. The stages are amongst some of the roughest we encounter all year and it’s important for the teams to produce a strong car and for the drivers to keep their wits about them. From past experience, we know that the Fiesta is a strong car, and I believe that our drivers have the ability to deliver their targets.
“Mads has performed well here in the past, and if everything goes to plan, I would expect him to be fighting towards the sharp end of the field once again. We know that he is an exceptionally consistent driver and his second place in the championship proves that, but we also know that he has more speed that he wants to show.
“This will be another new event for Éric, but having done the recce here last year he won’t be going completely into the unknown. His road position means that he will have to be extra vigilant as rocks can easily be pulled onto the driving line, but his target remains the same – to complete all of the stages unscathed and gain the maximum experience.
“As for Elfyn, this is an extremely busy month for him with three events in quick succession. This is an event that he enjoys and I’m confident that he will be able to continue what has been a string of very impressive performances. Argentina can be something of a lottery, but his target will be to secure a third WRC 2 victory with the new-evolution Fiesta R5.”