M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s half-term report, our fourth and final WRC manufacturer, is largely about what might have been in the first eight rallies.
Head boy Elfyn Evans sits fourth in class and has learned lots, progressing and maturing from his earlier years into a driver eminently capable of leading from the front and showing the best of the rest the way home.
He did just that in Corsica and deserved to depart the French island with his second WRC win. Instead, he hit a pothole in the road, punctured the right-front on his Fiesta and fell two steps down the podium to third.
The Welshman’s position in the standings is a fair reflection of his start to the year. He’s finished in the top five on six occasions. And crashed in Monte-Carlo and Argentina.
Had he brought either of those two results home, he’d have been well clear in the race to be best of the rest behind the big three of Ott Tänak, Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville.
Evans started the season with a new co-driver alongside him and that relationship with Scott Martin looks to be flourishing.
Teemu Suninen has had two new co-drivers in the first eight rounds with Marko Salminen replacing Mikko Markkula at the top of the season, and Jarmo Lehtinen replacing Salminen last time out in Sardinia.
Suninen has made a big impression in the first half of his maiden full year at the highest level. He made a very big impression on his Fiesta when he crashed into a ditch in the season’s very first stage in the French Alps, but bounced back to lead Rally Sweden before sliding into a snowbank.
Another crash on the first stage proper ruled the Finn out of Mexico and delivered increasing pressure to his shoulders for the following events. He re-set, dealt with that pressure and showed the speed to run closer to the front again in Portugal.
Bringing Lehtinen into the car looks to have put another piece of the jigsaw in place with the pair ending the Italian event a strong second.
M-Sport Ford has closed the gap to Citroën in the last two rallies and overhauling the French firm before the end of the year is a genuine objective for the 2017 manufacturers’ champions.
A third Fiesta would definitely help in that direction, especially if Gus Greensmith gets back in the car and continues the speed he managed on his World Rally Car debut in Portugal.
Pontus Tidemand tackled Monte-Carlo and Sweden, but the Swede struggled to make the impact he would have wanted. Eighth on his home event was the best of those two outings.