M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen and Elfyn Evans are ready to mount a challenge on the mixed surface stages of next week’s RallyRACC – Rally de España.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Spanish fixture is the FIA World Rally Championship’s (WRC) only true dual surface event and the M-Sport pairing are well prepared for the challenges ahead.
Following an opening super special stage in the company of Barcelona’s famous Montjuïc fountains, the crews embark on a day of predominantly gravel speed tests before making the move to asphalt for the remainder of the event.
For those looking to challenge for the top positions, a swift transition from one surface to the next is paramount. Get lost in discovering the optimum set-up or driving style for the smooth, circuit-like roads and the potential time loss could prove pivotal.
Thankfully, the M-Sport team conducted a thorough pre-event test on the Spanish Tarmac to ensure that both crews are fully prepared to attack the black-top stages of the event’s decisive final stages.
On Friday evening the team will transform M-Sport’s fleet – lowering the ride height and changing a number of components such as the suspension, brakes, gearbox, rear differential, steering rack and cross members.
The intricate process provides each crew with a car that can perform at the highest level on each variation of the event’s diverse nature – equipping the M-Sport drivers with the means to chase a strong haul of points on the Costa Daurada.
Hirvonen currently holds fourth position in the drivers’ standings and will be aiming to strengthen his 10 point lead next week. The Spanish fixture holds fond memories for the Finn and his co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen who secured their first WRC podium at the event in 2005.
This will be the Fiesta RS WRC driver’s 12th appearance at Rally de España. Few crews can boast as much experience and the pairing will be looking to use that to their advantage as they challenge for a top result.
Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt also have past experience of the Spanish fixture having contested the event as part of the FIA WRC Academy and WRC 2 category in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
The Welshman has shown some impressive pace behind the wheel of his Fiesta RS WRC on asphalt and will be equally as keen to showcase his full potential on the loose surface terrain of the WRC’s penultimate round.
Mikko Hirvonen said:
“This is an event that I enjoy. We have competed here every year since 2003 and it holds some good memories for me – it was where Jarmo [Lehtinen, co-driver] and I secured our first WRC podium in 2005.
“As the only mixed surface event of the year, the biggest challenge is making a clean shift from one surface to the next. Going from gravel to Tarmac we’ll need to get into gear fairly quickly. The car feels different, the grip levels are different, the braking points are different, and you need to have the confidence to make it count on the very first stage. If you’re not 100 per cent happy with the handling of the car then you could easily lose a lot of time on Saturday morning.
“I’m looking forward to the gravel stages on Friday, but we also had a really good Tarmac test with the new tyres so I’m feeling positive about that too. These roads are very different to the ones we drove in France. They’re a lot wider and the Tarmac is a lot smoother so we needed to find a set-up that would work best in these conditions. I think we did that, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“My goal is to strengthen our place in the championship. There will be a lot of drivers with a point to prove and a lot to gain, but if we can be in the fight for the top positions then I think it could be a good event for us.”
Elfyn Evans said:
“We’ve not had a massive amount of luck at this rally, but it’s one that I enjoy and I hope that we can turn that around next week. I’m up for the challenge and will hopefully be able to take another step forward.
“It can be a bit strange going from one surface to the next as the car goes from being quite loose [on gravel] to feeling as though it’s on rails [on asphalt]. That feeling generally only lasts for one stage; you soon get into the groove and if you’ve had a good test and deciphered the best set-up for the Tarmac stages, it’s not too much of a drama.
“The Spanish Tarmac is very different from what we have previously experienced in Germany and France. It’s a lot wider and smoother. It poses its own challenges, but we had a positive test so let’s see what we can do. It’s hard to tell how everyone will fair until we get to the event and see who has determined the best set-up for the new tyres on these different roads, but we learnt a lot and the feeling is positive.
“We’ve shown some promising pace on asphalt this year and to be fair our speed on gravel hasn’t been bad either. We’ve shown some good pace on individual splits, but it would be good to see that translated over a full stage distance. I don’t have any specific goals in mind, but if I can do that and challenge some of the more experienced guys on both surfaces, then I think it could be another good event for us.”