M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen and Elfyn Evans head to Rallye de France - Alsace with a clear objective – to hunt down their rivals in the battle for second place in the FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturer standings.
The British team embarks on the final pure asphalt event of the year just eight points adrift of the runner-up spot; and with both Ford Fiesta RS WRC drivers capable of a solid result on Tarmac, the team will be keen to close that gap further.
Rallye de France may host the shortest route of the year, but the compact fixture is one of the championship’s most popular events – the historic city of Strasbourg attracting huge crowds that flock to see some of the year’s most closely-fought rallying.
The event is a true rally of strategy as unpredictable weather over the Vosges Mountains puts the teams’ strategists to the test. The teams also rely heavily on their safety crews who deliver the most up-to-date information from the stages before the crews attack the Tarmac at full speed.
Experience can make all the difference and those looking to fight for the top positions require a thorough understanding of the French asphalt – the nature of the road and the way in which the grip levels are affected in varying conditions.
One crew who certainly have the experience are Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen. The pairing have contested Rallye de France on nine previous occasions – albeit five times on the picturesque island of Corsica which delivered the Finns’ first stage win in 2003.
Since relocating to Alsace, Hirvonen has contested each mainland edition with considerable success – securing back-to-back podiums in 2011 and 2012. This year, he will be looking to apply all of his knowledge and experience in pursuit of a similar result.
Rallye de France holds a lot of special memories for Evans. In 2011 the Welshman made his French debut in style – piloting a Ford Fiesta R2 to the model’s then best WRC result of 16th overall. But the best was yet to come, and in 2012 he became a World Rally Champion by winning the French round of the FIA WRC Academy along with the coveted title.
There was similar success for the Welshman on his maiden four-wheel-drive outing at the event last year. He piloted his Ford Fiesta R5 to second place in the WRC 2 category and was one of only two drivers capable of posting a fastest stage time.
Now, following an impressive world rally car debut on pure asphalt at Rallye Deutschland, Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt will be looking to challenge some of their more experienced rivals once again.
Mikko Hirvonen said:
“As Tarmac events go, Rallye de France is one that I enjoy. There are always a lot of spectators out on the stages and a lot of support for all of the drivers.The biggest challenge is probably the weather. There is often a risk of rain over the mountains and the right tyre choice can make all the difference. It can be a rally of strategy and you need to ensure that you are on the right tyre for each leg of the event. Road position can also be important. If it rains then a lot of mud can get dragged onto the road; especially over the second pass. More than anything though, you need to be very precise and tidy with your driving and keep focused through all of the potential conditions.We’ve had two podium finishes here in the past and it would be great to be in the fight for a similar result next week. It won’t be easy and there will be a lot of drivers with a point to prove, but let’s see what happens. I’m definitely up for the challenge!”
Elfyn Evans said:
“This is an event that holds a lot of special memories for me and we’ve had a lot of good results here in the past. In 2012 it was where I won the FIA WRC Academy and last year we were second in the WRC 2 category. I’ve been really looking forward to these more familiar events and I can’t wait to attack these stages with a world rally car for the first time. Like Germany, it’s a challenging event but one that I really enjoy. The weather in the mountains can be very unpredictable and you need to have complete trust in your safety crew to get all of the latest information from the stages. A lot of mud can also get dragged onto the roads, but the organisers have done a lot to prevent this in recent years by marking the route with posts and bollards which stop the drivers taking cuts in certain places. The stages themselves are faster and more open than the ones in Germany, but the weather and the conditions can be quite similar. We had a good run last time out on asphalt, so I hope we can deliver a similar performance next week.”