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Qatar M-Sport’s stars came to the fore today as the Ford Fiesta RS WRC secured more fastest stage times than any other model on Day 2 of Rallye Monte-Carlo. With two speed test victories for Evgeny Novikov, and Juho Hänninen securing his first WRC stage win at the wheel of the Fiesta, the squad has made its mark on the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
Following two loops of three identical stages high in the Ardèche mountains north-west of Valence, Novikov holds fourth place with Hänninen seventh and Mads Østberg adopting a sensible approach on his first venture to the classic event in ninth.
Over the morning loop, Novikov and co-driver Ilka Minor were the stars of the show. Thoroughly enjoying the heavy braking and sideways drifting required to prosper in these tricky conditions, the Russian set the second fastest time through the opening test – just 2.9 seconds adrift of victory despite a less than perfect run having darted wide at the midway point.
Gaining more and more confidence, Novikov could not be matched through a snow-covered SS6 as he set the fastest time – almost a full five seconds clear of his nearest rival. Similarly impressive were Østberg and Hänninen as the pairing proved how comfortable the Fiesta RS WRC is in the challenging conditions to complete a 1-2-3 for the Qatar M-Sport squad.
Embarking on the final stage of the morning, Novikov was again out in front. Taking his second successive stage win, the Muscovite climbed to fourth place overall, just 7.6 seconds adrift of a podium finish.
The bitterly cold weather meant that the later stages remained compacted with snow for the second loop – a fact that once again played into the hands of a charging Novikov. With just one spare tyre for the afternoon, the 22-year-old took a conservative approach over the asphalt stretches on SS8 – safeguarding his studded Michelin rubber for a full-scale attack on the penultimate wintry tests. Attack he did and Novikov claimed a second and fifth fastest time to keep a podium position well within his grasp.
But it was team-mate Hänninen who was to shine. Finding confidence and rhythm on the equal grip throughout SS9, the Finn claimed an impressive first WRC stage win on his debut with the new generation of world rally car – 6.6 seconds ahead of a charging Novikov and a full 13.4 seconds clear of six-time Rallye Monte-Carlo winner, Sébastien Loeb.
As the rally heads to the glamorous principality of Monaco tomorrow, Novikov, Hänninen and Østberg will be looking to prove the speed and potential of the Fiesta RS WRC once again as the crews tackle three stages south of the permanent rally base in Valence.
Evgeny Novikov (4th) said:
“It has been a very good day for us. There were some quite interesting conditions on the stages and it was very slippery, but there are still two days to go. It’s a long rally and we will fight on for sure.
“This is Rallye Monte-Carlo and to go well here you have to be confident and enjoy driving the stages. Now, I am on a mission. I am really enjoying the stages and looking forward to tomorrow – there is no question that I will be fighting for third position in the days to come.”
Juho Hänninen (7th) said:
“I am still learning with this car, but when the grip is equal throughout the stage I feel much more confident. On ‘St Bonnet’ [SS6 and SS9] I felt much more positive and had a clean, smooth run through the second pass with no mistakes – the time was also quite good!
“I don’t know about tomorrow, but for the future and for myself I can see now that once I have learnt how to get the potential from the car, I will be able to set some good times. It’s getting better and better, it will just take time.”
Mads Østberg (9th) said:
“Today started quite well. We were able to increase the speed in some areas, but in others we have definitely not been able to do that. On the snowy sections where there is a Tarmac line I am still struggling a lot. I tried some different approaches, but it seems that whatever I do I just lose more time.
“On the snow and clean Tarmac we have improved a lot, but there is still a lot of work to do overall. I think now it’s all about trying some different things to see if the feeling improves on the sections we’re finding difficult. We’ll change a few things in service tonight and hopefully we can move forward tomorrow.
“This is a long and difficult rally and I think that we must take the fact that we are still here as a positive.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“After what wasn’t a great opening day for us yesterday, today has been very encouraging. All three drivers did a great job. It was naturally pleasing to see Juho [Hänninen] achieve his first stage win on a WRC event, but I think you’d have to say the absolute highlight has been Evgeny’s [Novikov] performance. He’s shown on several occasions in the past that he can set the odd fastest time here and there, but he’s been impressively consistent today and has put some real pressure on Dani [Sordo] in third.
“To win SS6 by almost five seconds, given his level of experience, was quite something. We saw last year how he has developed and progressed, and he seems to be very happy and comfortable in the pace he is setting.
“For Mads [Østberg], it’s his first Rallye Monte-Carlo, and when the grip is consistent he is setting some strong times; it’s when the conditions are changeable with patchy snow and ice that he is finding it difficult to gain confidence. But to come here for the first time and be setting the kind of times that he is, I think he is doing a good job.”
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