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As the 80th Rallye Monte Carlo got underway in Valence today, there was an impressive showing from the WRC’s leading privateers, the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. On a day when tyre choice was key, the M-Sport crews showed real maturity in their selections, rewarded with some impressive times from all three drivers. Come the end of competition on Day 1, all three of M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta RS WRCs lay inside the top-ten with Evgeny Novikov fifth, François Delecour seventh and Ott Tänak ninth.
Leading the way for the M-Sport team, Novikov was amongst the few drivers to choose the optimal soft tyre in the morning stages, leaving him seventh overall after SS1. SS2 proved even more fruitful for the young Russian. Despite losing over 20 seconds after clipping a bank and causing some damage to the left-hand side of his Fiesta, Novikov set the fifth fastest time, just 3.7 adrift of eight-time World Champion, Sébastien Loeb, to secure 6th place overall.
The Russian’s good form continued into the afternoon when a solid time through SS3 followed by another fifth fastest time in SS4 saw Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet leap-frog Citroen driver, Mikko Hirvonen, for fifth place at the end of Day 1.
Enjoying the thrill of being back behind the wheel of a WRC car, Delecour today proved what makes him so special around the stages of Monte Carlo. The Frenchman’s excellent choice of tyre and wealth of experience saw him secure strong times throughout the morning’s stages.
Delecour’s legendary sixth-sense around Monte Carlo shone through once more in the afternoon. Adopting a different tactic to his colleagues, Delecour and navigator, Dominique Savignoni, ran mixed compounds into the final two stages. The gamble paid off and the pairing secured the second fastest time on SS4 to climb to seventh place overall.
Tänak too showed maturity beyond his years. Despite finding himself on the wrong tyre option for the conditions, the young Estonian kept a cool head to recover 13th place after SS1. On SS2, Tänak proved that he is not afraid to try something different when, contrary to his colleagues, he added studded tyres to the front of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Building in confidence, the second loop saw Tänak and co-driver, Kuldar Sikk, continue their solid run. Their pace constantly improving, the Estonians secured the seventh fastest time in SS4 to secure ninth place overall and ensure all three M-Sport crews are inside the top-ten as the WRC opener prepares for Day 2.
Evgeny Novikov said: “This afternoon has been good. We had soft tyres with studs on the rear for the final stage. Ok, maybe this was not the best option, but we are playing it safe here this weekend. And to be ahead of Mikko [Hirvonen] at the end of Day 1, that’s not bad at all! Tomorrow we plan to just drive. The conditions can make things very difficult here and we don’t want to do anything crazy.”
François Delecour said: “Not bad for an old man! We’re taking the rally step by step and this morning I think we may have been a little too cautious. But I’m learning all the time and I know now that, for me, I have to push. I can’t think too much about calculating the conditions and about what might be.
“The car feels really good but it is not easy to learn. There is such a big gap between these modern WRC cars and what I have been used to driving in the past. It is so easy to go fast in these cars. Engine, brakes, everything is so much sharper. But I think we are getting better and better the more mileage we do!”
Ott Tänak said: “Everything is going well. The conditions were easier this afternoon so we were able to do a little bit more. But for sure we are not pushing hard. As we have seen today, a lot can happen and I am sure that a lot more will happen in the days to come. We’re being sensible. We need the experience here in Monte Carlo, so we have to be smart and stay out of trouble.”