M-Sport Ford driver Teemu Suninen admitted his Rally Italia Sardegna runners-up spot exceeded all his expectations ahead of last weekend’s WRC qualifier.
The 25-year-old, who was co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen for the first time, led for the first two gravel stages and remained in the fight for a podium position all the way to second place at the finish.
“At this point of my career, I think this is a good result,” said Suninen. “I didn’t expect to be leading in the first two forest stages. The pace was good in the rally, with no big mistakes. I made a spin on Friday and maybe I could do more speed on Sunday. The young boy still needs to progress!
“But I’m very happy with this result and happy with the way things work with Jarmo. I felt really comfortable with him straight away. OK, there are some small things, like how his voice is pronouncing the slow corners, but this is no problem.
“We had no problems through the weekend, we change some of the notes and all of this was good for him. He is older than my dad, but when he came to the car on Friday morning, immediately he was 20 years younger!”
Lehtinen returned to the WRC four years after he and longtime driver Mikko Hirvonen retired from the sport, posting second place in a Ford Fiesta RS at Rally GB. He returned with the same team and the same score.
He said: “I didn’t realise how much I missed this. It’s nice to be back and find everything is OK. It felt natural and normal straight away. And Teemu was really good, I’m not here to be his teacher, he knows what he’s doing.”
Team principal Richard Millener admitted the crew change came as a relief to M-Sport, but was quick to pay tribute to Marko Salminen, who made way for Lehtinen after just seven world starts with Suninen.
“Marko did a good job,” said Millener. “I think there was a realisation that asking somebody to go to a high, high level from the end of last year to the start of this one was a massive task.
“This is a full-on job at this level and it’s a job that takes not just skill, but also considerable experience. Maybe it was our fault for pushing this one quite hard.”