[M]-Sport World Rally Team’s Éric Camilli made his mark on the FIA World Rally Championship today – setting a string of highly impressive times through the second full day of competition at Rally de Portugal. Currently holding fifth place in the overall standings, the Frenchman is also on course to secure his best ever result.
Co-driven by fellow Frenchman Benjamin Veillas, the pairing were given three objectives for this weekend’s event: complete all of the stages, increase the pace from Rally Argentina and get closer to team mate Mads Østberg. So far, they have mastered all three.
Piloting the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRC, Camilli raised an eyebrow or two when he posted the third fastest time through the opening test (SS10) – 4.5 seconds quicker than the World Champion and just 0.7 seconds shy of second-placed man Andreas Mikkelsen.
Proving his time was no fluke, Camilli went on to show similar speed through the following stage (SS11) – posting the second fastest time on the final split point before a small mistake into a junction cost him 10 seconds to the leaders.
Despite his impressive pace, the Frenchman – who is contesting only the tenth gravel rally of his career this weekend – admitted that he has more to learn. Content in fifth, he eased his speed through the second pass – learning how to best set-up the car whilst maintaining a solid and consistent pace.
Having delivered his best performance behind the wheel of the Fiesta RS WRC, Camilli has shown the world his potential and there will be more to come as he grows accustomed to the high level of competition.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Østberg and co-driver Ola Fløene had one eye on what is a strong championship position.
Despite driving well, the Norwegians were still struggling for confidence through the down shifts – which were made worse by the loose conditions as one of the first cars on the road – and opted for a cautious approach to safeguard as many points as possible.
Unfortunately, they suffered a broken rear differential on SS11 which saw them relegated to seventh place having lost three minutes to the leading pack. With the Fiesta RS WRC fully repaired for the second pass, Østberg continued his solid approach so as to safeguard his third place in the championship standings.
Elsewhere in the WRC 2 category, the Ford Fiesta R5 Evo was back to full power and Elfyn Evans made quick work of reeling in first place man Pontus Tidemand – taking 7.2 seconds out of the Swede on SS11 alone.
Proving how dominant he could have been without his earlier issues, Evans was a man on a mission, but it wasn’t to last. Clipping a tree stump 11.3 kilometres into SS12, he rolled his Fiesta and was forced to retire for the day.
With the Fiesta R5 Evo fully repaired during this evening’s service, Evans and co-driver Craig Parry will be back out tomorrow – keen to show the pace that should have gifted them another victory this weekend.
Éric Camilli (5th) said: “Today has been a very good day for me and I certainly have a smile on my face! We posted the third fastest time on the first stage this morning [SS10] which was very good news for us – proving that we can fight with the top guys.
“We still have a lot to learn but I think that we are improving all the time. We’ve improved the driving, the understanding, the pacenotes, everything. As an example we are developing the pacenotes rally after rally and now I have a lot more distances between the corners that I didn’t have before. That’s helping me to find some tenth under braking.
“But the rally is not finished yet and tomorrow will be a difficult day as I have never experienced the Fafe stage before. Everyone else knows it very well so it will be a special challenge for us.”
Mads Østberg (7th) said: “We’re really happy with what we have done this afternoon. I feel that we have done the maximum that we can and we can’t do more than that. I’ve been really pleased with my driving and really pleased with the pacenotes so we definitely have some positives to take away.”
Elfyn Evans (Rally 2) said: “Things started much better today. It was good to have the car back to normal performance and I think the pace showed that – despite not having to do anything silly – we would have been able to fight for the victory.
“Unfortunately, we had a bit of a pacenote error in SS12. I didn’t have a tree stump marked on the inside of a corner and it took the wheel off. That was the end of the day and not the way we were planning to finish the event.
“It’s important to get the experience tomorrow and we’ll try to carry on as we did this morning.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “Éric’s performance has been absolutely fantastic and it’s great to see his development evolve over the course of the weekend, particularly today. He’s set some great stage times and some really good sector times which have propelled him into fifth place overall.
“As you can imagine, it’s great for him after such a difficult start to the season but it’s also great for us to see that potential. When those splits were coming in everyone in the office was so exciting – it’s great news for us and a real morale boost for the whole team.
“Unfortunately we had a differential problem with Mads which dropped him down the field, but he’s also still struggling for confidence. It seems to be more of a problem for him when the stages are slippery and easier when there is more available grip.
“Then, in WRC 2, it was a great start for Elfyn and he looked sure to reel in Pontus and take the win we came here for. Unfortunately, he made a pacenote error on the recce and hit a tree stump when taking a cut. It was a shame for him and for the whole team, but he’ll be back out tomorrow with the aim of setting some good times and salvaging some valuable points.”