New horizons for M-Sport as Rally Finland dawns
M-Sport enter Rally Finland with an almost completely new driver line-up that sees Hayden Paddon making his 2019 WRC debut.
Second and fourth places in Sardinia was the team’s best performance this year, but their plans for Neste Rally Finland were disrupted by Elfyn Evans’ back injury in Estonia.
This led to Gus Greensmith being brought in to drive a WRC car and his existing WRC2 Pro entry being cancelled.
This rally will also see the second appearance in the team of Hayden Paddon (after Catalunya 2013). His first time driving the latest spec Fiesta WRC will be on a familiarisation test one day before recce.
Teemu Suninen spent two days testing, Greensmith had one day.
Malcolm Wilson will celebrate his 40th year in business at the rally.
Teemu Suninen has the car he crashed in Mexico, Greensmith has Evans’ Portugal and Sardinia car, and Paddon has Suninen’s car from earlier in the year.
Jouni Virtanen has JanPro’s ex-Suninen chassis 6.
Ford cars have won this event 13 times, the best results for this year’s M-Sport drivers are fourth places in 2017 for Suninen, and a similar result last year for Paddon.
“The summer break was long – really long – and I can’t wait to get back in the rally car. Rally Finland is one of my favourites and there is something special about rallying at home – so of course I want to do well there.
“I would say that I’m in a better pace this year than I was last year, and my experience is on a level now where I can compete for the good results. We had a good two-day test last week and the car feels a lot more competitive than it was 12 months ago.
“But of course our rivals will also have made some steps forward and we need to stay realistic. Last year I finished sixth, so my aim is to at least do one better than that.”
I want to wish Elfyn a full and speedy recovery. These aren’t the circumstances in which we wanted to be back behind the wheel of the World Rally Car, but it’s the cards we’ve been dealt and I’m really proud that M-Sport and Ford saw us as the best crew for the job.
“Rally Finland gives you so much satisfaction behind the wheel, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like with the Fiesta WRC – this rally and this car blow my mind every time!
“We had a strong debut in Portugal, but there are still many aspects we need to improve and Finland will be an even bigger challenge. I tend to go quite well on the faster rallies, and if we can make a good step forward I’ll be happy.
“I had six months to prepare for Portugal, but for Finland it was more like six hours! I got the call and was on my way to the test the very next day. It was total madness, but I felt really comfortable really quickly. The test team did a fantastic job and I think we’ve got a competitive package for the rally.
“But I’ll still need to take the, ‘don’t run before you can walk,’ attitude into next week. I’ve proved my potential, but the reality is that there is a mountain to climb before I’ll be in a position to challenge for the podium. I know that, and I need to get as much experience as possible under my belt.”
“We’re really eager to get underway at Rally Finland. It’s been a long time away, and we’re looking forward to getting back in the car. Everyone at M-Sport has been really accommodating and I’ve been in the workshop this week – getting used to the car and the team before taking to the wheel for the first time at the test on Monday.
“It’s going to be an enjoyable rally, and we need to enjoy it first and foremost. But at the same time we’re not just here to make up the numbers. We want to make the most of the opportunity, and naturally want to be competitive.
“We still need keep our expectations in check – we’ve been out of the game for eight months and that could make it quite hard to bridge the gap. But I’m sure we’ll be able to build our speed as the rally progresses, and if the feeling is there from the start then John and I have the experience and the confidence to be mixing it at the top.
“All of the ingredients for a good rally are there, and we hope to put all the pieces of the puzzle together for a good result next week.”
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“The team are really motivated heading into the second half of the season. We’ve already proven our speed, and now it’s time to bring everything together in pursuit of more podiums as well as that sought-after victory over the next six events.
“We’ve had a productive break with tests in Finland as well as Rally Estonia, and we feel well prepared. The competition will be tough, but we have made some positive steps forward – with new dampers developed specifically for Finland – and we’ve got a good chance of a strong result.
“Obviously it’s a massive shame not to have Elfyn and Scott [Martin, co-driver] with us. Elfyn’s always gone well at this event, but we’ve still got three exciting crews. We wanted to be as competitive as we could be, and that’s why we’ve stuck with a three-car team this weekend.
“It was discussed that Gus would do a second event in the World Rally Car, so we fast-tracked that idea and it will be interesting to see how his pace improves. We’re also really fortunate to have Hayden with us. He’s got loads of experience, great speed and is very determined to do well. He’s spent some time with the engineers and technicians over the past few days, and shown that he’s ready to make the most of the opportunity.
“Speaking of being determined to do well, Teemu is really excited about his home event. I think he found the summer break particularly long, and can’t wait to get back behind the wheel. Like a lot of people, I’m excited to see what he can do – especially coming off the back of a career-best result in Sardinia and with Jarmo [Lehtinen, co-driver] alongside him!”